By Laura Schiller
Based on: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Copyright: Laini Taylor
"He is so beautiful," Nwella sighs.
"You're so lucky, Mad," Chiro chimes in, fluttering her claws.
Across the square, Thiago prowls like the white wolf he is nicknamed for, his long hair gleaming, the fangs on his headdress catching the light.
Madrigal shudders, but she can't quite tell whether it's anticipation or disgust. She turns away from him, focusing instead on her friends' faces: Nwella's reptilian eyes wide with daydreams, Chiro's jackal ears twitching madly as she follows every word of Thiago's conversation with an underling.
It's exciting, being envied. Almost enough to make up for the stomach-twisting prospect of Thiago's claws on her bare skin.
"I know," Madrigal replies.
Seventeen years later and a world apart:
"He's so hot!"
"You're so lucky, Karou."
Their female classmates (with the merciful exception of Zuzana) twitter and giggle, flocking to Karou like sparrows as soon as Kaz closes the door behind him. They've all seen it: her street actor ex-boyfriend, naked as Michelangelo's David, turning sultry blue eyes on Karou as he showed her the cursive K tattooed over his heart. Karou shudders with disgust. Ever since their breakup, it feels like she's had this conversation a hundred times already.
"For the last time, I am not," she snaps. "Since when is it lucky to have a stalker, no matter how hot he is?"
"Oh, lighten up!" Helen chimes in, fluttering her manicured hands. "He's just trying to get your attention. He's sorry for what he did, don't you see? He'll do anything to get you back. Isn't that romantic?"
It's not a good feeling, being envied. It brings chills crawling up her spine, as if Helen's long red nails were a set of claws liable to go for her throat. Karou shakes her blue ponytail, feeling paranoid. Too many tooth-gathering errands lately.
"No. No, it's not. It's vain and arrogant and selfish, and I've had enough. From now on, I want – "
She pauses. What does she want? It's always been hard to put into words – that feeling of déjà vu, of meeting a stranger and knowing him intimately at once; to be cherished, understood, as effortlessly as breathing. It's especially hard to put into words for girls like these, and in any case, it's not even their business.
"Look, girls," she finally says. "Who I choose to date is my decision, okay? Mine and no one else's."
"Damn straight," Zuzana declares, shaking her pencil like a spear, and Karou feels a glow of gratitude for her friend's support.
"Well, ex-cuse me for making conversation!" Helen throws up her claws and stalks away.
Once again, Karou feels out of place in the human world, overreacting as she did – but no one can deny she's made her point, and she sits back down at her easel with a certain amount of satisfaction.