Songbird Trilogy Book 1: The Maze Girl (complete)
Author: Julia R. West

Chapter 12
The List Grows Longer

By the next morning, I'm everything but dreading the meeting. Teryn hates me. Soren would like to kill me. Of course, Rory wouldn't, but he's one person out of three.

After I'm ready for the day a knock comes on the door. It could be Rory. Or Orion. I'm feeling like the luckiest person on earth at the fact hotel doors have peep-holes. I look through.

It's just Rory, so I let him in. "Hey," I say.

He responds, "Hey."

"Why are you here?" I ask, not trying to sound rude.

He shrugs. "I got bored."

And we stand at the door in silence, not knowing what to say. Until he leans in to kiss me. I'm not sure why, but I don't want him to. "Rory, I can't...I can't kiss you."

He stops, taken aback. "Why not?"

I haven't the slightest idea how to say this politely. "We're not in love. I don't love you."

He slams the door. Apparently that wasn't the right way. "No, I didn't mean it like that! I just meant we're best friends, not a couple!" I shout. But I'm sure he's down the hall by now.

And the list of people who hate me grows longer.

 

 

 

I walk down to the lobby alone a few minutes before noon. I approach the concierge. "Excuse me," I say, trying to sound polite, "Where is meeting room A10?"

"Ah, Miss Rowe, right down that hall, fifth on the right." He points to a hallway marked A with a gold plaque. Just like on the plane.

"Thank you," I say. He knows my name? Why does everyone seem to know my name? I suppose it's because we are famous. Me and Teryn and Soren and Rory. But still, it seems odd. I never bothered to learn the names of the four contestants. Until this year. I only pay attention to  things that concern me, which I'll probably realize, at some point, is not a good thing.

When I walk into meeting room A10, the long table is about half full. At the head sits Dmitria, golden curls and all, smiling broadly. To her left, on the side closer to me, is Rory, scowling at me. I'm somewhat used to his death-glares, but this one seems different. Across from him is Soren. He doesn't look sad, or scared, or angry. Or happy, for that matter. Just blank.

And finally Teryn, shifting her eyes from Rory to Dmitria and back again, not to me. I sit down acros from her, next to Rory. I keep my eyes locked on Dmitria sometimes and other times on the ground at my feet or my hands in my lap.

Orion walks in. I'm not sure what role he has to play in any of this. I'm also not sure if anyone knows who he really is except me and Rory, who I'm sorry I told now. He sits next to me. I slide my chair as close to Rory as I can. I don't care if he hates me, Rory won't try to kill me.

Dmitria waits impatiently for Julius, I suppose. "He's always late, always blaming it on traffic, or a slow clock, but he really just had blatant disregard for timing!" This tirade goes on and on, until finally, Julius walks in. I'm really just glad Dmitria can stop now. I think I could just hear her vocal cords crying for help.

"I'm sorry, these hotel clocks are so slow!" he says, taking a seat next to Teryn. I stifle a laugh, because now I'm thinking Dmitria was right.

She's clenching the table so hard I think she might crush it, but she doesn't. She clears her throat sweetly and begins speaking. "Welcome, contestants!" I hate how they refer to us as contestants. But we are. Winning brings money. And fame.

I'd be okay with the money, but I don't want to be famous. My name is my name and I should be able to properly introduce myself without the response being, "Oh, I know who you are!"

Dmitria continues, "I hope you are ready for tomorrow!" A few groans indicate that we're not, but she just glares briefly and goes on. "Tomorrow will be our first challenge, decidated to Soren Lockhart."

She smiles brightly at Soren, who looks up from his feet for a moment to acknowledge the sound of his name and turns his gaze back again. "Thursday for Teryn Westfall!" She gives Teryn a great big smile, too.

"Friday for Ellery Rowe," she says. Guess who gets the smile now? "And last, on Saturday, for Rory Griffin!"

He smiles back at her, the first of any of us, but it quickly dissapates. I know he's dreading his as much as I do mine. The worry on the faces of everyone in the room (except Dmitria and Julius) is telltale.

"Of course, the challenge will be a surprise, but the goal of each challenge is to be the first to the finish line." We nod; all four of us. "It's not an easy thing to do." Boy, do we know it?

"And you are strongly recommended to wear the outfit picked out for the challenge. We are always open for questions."

"I have a guestion," I begin. "If a player can't participate--"

"Why would they be unable to, Ellery?"

"Oh, I don't know...say, you can't find them?"

Dmitria nods. "Go on."

"If a player can't participate, then what happens? Is their challenge withdrawn? Or do they forfeit?"

Dmitria flips through a quite large book. Old, too. "Let's see....If a player or players are unable to participate in a challenge for reasons listed..." She skims the reasons listed, "The other players would still participate in the challenge."

I'm disheartened. "Unless," she reads, "The challenge is a tie-breaker challenge. The player forfeits and their opponent automatically is declared winner."

I nod. "Thanks."

She nods. No-one has anymore questions. She sees us off in a friendly way, through a wave of goodbyes. Julius doesn't come out. Neither does Orion. The door shuts behind the four contestants, and the adults talk in quiet.

No-one notices when I stay behind to listen in on their conversation. Everything could be useful.

 

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