BOOK 1 // FOUR: Shattered Glass

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  I was hoping for an inconspicuous return home.

Unfortunately, just seconds after the front door clicked into place behind me, I realised it was going to be the opposite.

My parents were in the living room, but their conversation stopped abruptly as soon as they heard my footsteps. For the second time that day, I found myself cursing the boots I'd worn; their heels seemed good for little more than stomping around in anger. I fully intended to throw them in the back of my wardrobe once this was all over.

I wanted nothing more than to retreat to my bedroom and slam the door, but the air of anticipation through the house made it clear that was not about to happen. Though it went against every instinct in my body, I dropped my bag with a thud on the marble, and headed in the direction of the living room door.

"Astrid!"

Mum and Dad were perched on separate sofas in what was far from a natural setup. I hadn't seen them here together for several years – not since both of their workloads had intensified enough to keep them permanently out of the living room. Both of them were more likely to be shut up in their respective studies than waiting to greet me.

Still, today was not just another Tuesday afternoon. Only one thing was enough to drag them away from their work – unfortunately, this also happened to be the last thing I wanted to tell them.

"Hey," I said, fighting to keep my voice level.

But, as far as they were concerned, introductions were just time-wasters. I should've known. "Well," my mum said, looking ready to start jumping up and down in anticipation, "how was it?"

"How was what?"

My dad gave me an impatient look. In the bright light filtering through the patio doors, I noticed how much his hair had greyed. The dining room lighting was considerably more forgiving, and the frosted roots against dark colour seemed to age him well beyond his years. "What do you think? The interview, obviously."

"Oh." My hands moved to undo the buttons of my coat, but it was just another stalling move, and I had a feeling they could both tell. "It, uh... it was okay."

"Just okay?" Even this had Mum looking disappointed, which made the truth that more unappealing to spill. She was hoping for buckets of optimism, a thriller of a tale where I hit back every question perfectly. What I had to offer hardly lived up to standards. "You don't think you got in?"

"I don't know," I said. It was an easier answer than the truth: not a chance in hell.

"What did he ask?" she pressed. "Did he go over your applicant essay? We went over that dozens of times, that must've at least impressed him a little—"

"It wasn't Mr Cardiner."

My interjection had her frowning, pulling her arched brows closer together. "What? Was he out sick, or something? I didn't hear that anybody else was doing interviews—"

"I had Dr Nielsen."

If the name had yielded a blank look, it might've been a little more reassuring. But the expression that dawned across Mum's features epitomised everything I didn't want to see.

"Oh," she said. "That's unfortunate."

I should've taken a seat by now, but I couldn't bring myself to move from the door; it felt like a quick exit had to be an option at all times. "Why?" I asked, a little warily. "Do you know her?"

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