Chapter 11 - The Poem

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In the days since the challenge was announced, I had gone through several drafts and decided they were all worthless. Lydia suggested I try my hand at poetry and I reluctantly conceded because I was out of ideas.

She and Shelby were still working together and I often heard the sounds of violin accompanying Shelby's voice from across the hall. While Lydia played flawlessly (as far as I could tell with my lack of musical knowledge,) Shelby wasn't as good a singer as she claimed.

When I was stuck on my writing, I liked to go down to the parlor and watch the other girls work on their projects. A few — Skyler among them — had formed a dance troupe and were rarely seen except when they took breaks from practicing choreography. One girl was working on a pretty impressive clay bust of the king's face. Another painted his portrait. A third must have decided she would upstage the second by painting a portrait of herself and the king together. I would wager if Sabine could paint, that's what she'd do. Alas, her talent remained a mystery. She worked privately and was rarely seen in the parlor. I found it hard to believe she had any skill besides being an enormous bitch.

My poem was a jumble of feelings and abstract concepts, yet I was oddly pleased with the way it was coming together. I chose Rowan as the subject, thinking breakup angst was a good source of inspiration. It was, and the words flowed freely onto the page.

My misgivings about sharing this with the king abated with the knowledge that this was going to be my last challenge. It was freeing in a way, to know that I was destined to fail.

The night before the deadline, I finished the poem. Strangely, I felt more accomplished over that poem than any other time in my life. I left it in my desk, then went to Lydia's room to watch her and Shelby practice.

Shelby's singing had improved a bit over the week, but Lydia remained the star of the show. She was exceptional with the violin. I found myself ignoring Shelby entirely, drawn to Lydia's serene face as she played, swaying to the tune of the music.

Lydia's skills were enviable. Maybe if my parents had pushed me harder into joining the school orchestra, I would be just as good. Although Lydia no doubt had access to private tutors, so she would still be better.

After their practice was over, the three of us went to dinner together. It had become a habit over the days. Although I got the feeling Shelby wasn't overly fond of my presence. She'd never talk to me, only to Lydia.

Sabine showed up halfway through dinner. While being "fashionably late" wasn't unusual for her, this was pushing her previous limits. She passed by Skyler and leaned down to whisper something to her. The other girl mumbled something in return, and Sabine left to occupy the only remaining seat.

After I finished eating, I went back to my room. It couldn't hurt to do some last minute revisions on my poem. I opened the drawer to the writing desk... and found it gone.

I frowned, rifling through the papers inside. All of my notes and early drafts were there, but no poem. Had I forgotten to put it in the drawer? I checked my pockets and found them empty.

Skyler walked in at that moment and went straight to the dresser.

"My poem's gone, have you seen it?" I asked her.

"Nope," she said. She pulled out a black velvet jewelry box from the top drawer.

I gave out a hopeless sigh. Where could it have gone? I began searching through in my nightstand and suitcases, hoping it would turn up. Why didn't I think to make a second copy, just in case?

Sabine sauntered through the open door and I suppressed a curse. What was she doing here?

She ignored me and went straight to Skyler. The other girl held out a necklace to her. Sabine took it, marveling at the sparkling blue stone that hung from the silver chain.

"This is gorgeous," she drawled. "Thanks for letting me borrow it."

"Just remember to give it back," Skyler replied in her typical exhausted manner.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to run off with it," she said, slipping the necklace over her neck.

"Whatever. I'm gonna go practice choreography," Skyler said and walked out of the room.

Much to my chagrin, Sabine did not follow. I watched her as she stood in front of the dresser, admiring herself in Skyler's round makeup mirror.

"What are you looking for?" she asked innocently.

I froze. Why wasn't she leaving?

"My project," I murmured.

"Ooh, that's not good," she said. She pursed her lips and turned back to the mirror, adjusting a stray strand of hair away from her face.

"No, it isn't," I replied and returned to my search. My nightstand was coming up empty.

"It's not this, is it? Shelby Knight said you left it in her room," she held out a folded piece of paper.

I jolted to my feet and ran over. I reached for the paper, but she snatched it away. I cursed inwardly.

"Give it back," I pleaded.

She held her hand out to stop me and unfolded the paper. It really was my poem. I recognized the shape of the words bleeding through the thin parchment. Sabine's eyes raked over the page. The corner of her mouth curled up. I made an attempt to snatch it from her grasp, but she stepped back, wandering aimlessly toward the desk.

Sabine lips twisted into a wolfish grin. An unsettling cackle escapes her red lipped mouth, making me flinch. I could feel a blush creeping across my cheeks. The last thing I needed right now was a critique from the likes of her.

"My God," she laughed. "You think this sappy drivel is going to impress the king?"

I didn't, but it was none of her business.

"Why do you care?" I snapped. "Just give it back."

Sabine glanced up and down the poem one more time, her head shaking in amusement. I crossed my arms. She put the poem face down on the writing desk. As I took a step to retrieve it, I froze. Sabine had unlatched the window.

She leaned over the desk and inhaled the crisp night air. The curtains fluttered slightly in the breeze. The folded page flew up and I bolted forward. Sabine caught it before I had the chance.

We were frozen in place, my arms outstretched toward the fluttering page she held out of reach. I gave her a pleading look. Her hazel eyes narrowed in response. Then, without blinking or breaking eye contact, she tore the page in half.

I stumbled back, horrified. Without a word, Sabine tore the remaining pieces a second time and then a third. She crumpled them in her hand and with a smug smile, stuck her arm out the open window.

"Please," I begged. Tears formed in my eyes.

Sabine opened her fist and my poem was carried away by the wind.

"No," I whispered, my voice a choked sob. I stared out as the pieces fluttered away into the darkness.

Sabine dusted off her hands. She straightened her shoulders and walked silently out of the room.

My legs gave out and I crumpled into a heap on the floor. My heart thundered inside my chest. Tears flowed thick and hot, blinding me.


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