Part L, in a continuing story from A to Z [link to the beginning]
Zoey ate her lunch outside on the back stoop, needing the fresh air. It was with great reluctance that she approached the sunroom and her role of temporary tutor. Sam was waiting for her, dressed in the same uniform but with the addition of military-style boots, sprawled on a small couch and looking about as thrilled to be there as Zoey felt.
Zoey sat in a chair where she could see both the door to the hall and the one leading to the back gardens and balanced the multi-page itinerary on her crossed leg. She didn’t need the papers, but figured they’d be a good visual. Provided Sam ever looked up from her sullen contemplation of the floor.
She rolled the papers and slapped them against the side of her chair, satisfied when Sam jumped and sat up a bit straighter.
Zoey smiled politely. “Stand up and walk across the room, to the door and back.”
Sam glared at her, then dragged herself off the couch. She stomped half the distance, turned and aimed an expression of deadly indifference at Zoey, and stomped back, flopping onto the couch again.
Zoey bit the inside of her cheek to stop from laughing. “Awesome. Let’s try it again, only this time pretend I’m the Queen and my entire royal court is watching and judging you.”
Sam narrowed her eyes in a display of extreme dislike. “Which Queen?”
“Whichever one you’d want to impress with your grace and poise. Go.”
Sam stood up, a bit less sulkily this time, and managed a fluid straight-shouldered gait to the end of the room, executed a smooth turn and made her way back to the couch. Where she once again flopped down in an inelegant heap.
“Perfect,” Zoey said, switching to English. She made a show of drawing a line across a page. Then drew another line, a bit lower. “Looks like we can cross both Comportment and French off this god-awful list.”
Sam sat up and blinked at her, as if just now realizing they’d both been speaking French. Sam’s mother had been French and, as Zoey had suspected, the girl was fluent. Why she’d been subjected to lessons in that language was beyond baffling.
“Next up, Etiquette. Your table manners could use a bit of improvement, but they’re adequate.” She drew a line through that as well.
Sam’s expression lightened from heavy thundercloud to merely overcast, as comprehension began to sink in.
“World History. What are you studying?”
Sam hesitated, as if still uncertain of Zoey’s motives. “Disintegration of the Western Roman Empire, A.D. 400-499.”
Sweet Jesus. “Fascinating stuff. Let’s switch to something a bit less archaic. Your uncle subscribes to several newspapers. Read this one in its entirety daily, including the comics,” she handed a paper to Sam. “Read the editorial pages of this one, and the local news here,” giving her two more.
Sam took them, staring in shocked silence.
“Oh, and pick a current topic each day to discuss with your uncle over dinner,” Zoey added with a small grin, and crossed off another item. “Literature. What are you reading?”
“We just finished The Odyssey.”
Zoey winced. “Your uncle has an extensive library. Go pick a novel that looks highly entertaining and read it. Okay, that leaves Science and Math, my personal favourites. We’ll get to those on Monday. Class adjourned.”
She stood to leave, but Sam jumped up too and said, “Wait. That’s it?”
“Sam, it’s Saturday afternoon. No one does schoolwork on the weekend.” She saw the girl’s astonished expression and added, “Not when I’m in charge, anyway. Come on, let’s go for a walk.”
They grabbed their coats — Zoey’s had been miraculously mended, cleaned and returned to her room, along with the jeans she had thought ruined — and headed out the back door.
Zoey wandered over to the cliff, curious about the apparently random tide patterns, and noticed Sam hung back a good ways from the edge.
“Not good with heights?” she asked.
Sam bristled at the implication. “I’m fine with heights. I just don’t like that beach. It’s creepy.”
Zoey nodded. “Can’t argue with that.” The tide was out, way out, causing the white rocks to tower even more menacingly over the water. It had also exposed a larger swath of the rocky beach, revealing a surprisingly smooth black sand sea floor further out.
There also appeared to be a field of debris that had washed ashore, like there might be after a massive storm. But the weather had been clear. Zoey focused on a long piece of wood that had snagged on something– was that a mast? Oh god, it was. It was the distinctive mast and rigging of a junk, like the ship she’d seen last night, with sections of sail floating in the water. No, not like it. How many could there be in the area? It had to be the same ship.
She saw more debris further down the beach, though thankfully nothing body-shaped, and resisted the urge to climb down to investigate. Something was very wrong here. But she couldn’t take the risk that Sam would follow her. She’d have to come back later and hope the evidence hadn’t washed out to sea.
She was determined to make sure Sam got some sunlight and mild exercise, so she walked away from the cliff and toward the front of the house.
“Come on, let’s walk over this way,” she said.
Sam rolled her eyes, but followed along.
Attempts at conversation were fruitless, so Zoey stopped trying. Mind wandering, she became so preoccupied with thoughts of the wrecked ship and what that might mean about the fate of its sinister cargo, she wasn’t paying close attention to their surroundings.
She knew better.
They’d made their way down the hill and were walking among the sparse trees at the edge of the forested area, between the beach and the long winding drive leading to the house. By the time she realized they were being followed, it was almost too late.
Zoey paused to pick up a stout looking fallen branch and as she stood up, she wrapped a strong hand around Sam’s arm.
“Hey!” The girl shot her an exasperated look and tried to shrug off the grip.
“Sam, I need you to be very quiet and keep walking, slowly, just the way we are.”
“What are you doing? Let go.”
Zoey kept her voice low, her tone casual. “Sam, hush. We’re being stalked by a wolf. No, don’t turn around.” She tightened her grip. “If you run, it will chase you. You don’t want that.”
“Ms. Prescott, this isn’t funny.”
“Sam, I’m not trying to be funny. You see that tree over there? The one with the low branches.” Zoey nodded her head in the general direction. “We’re going to walk over there, slowly, and I’m going to help you climb up into it.”
Sam was wide-eyed with panic, but nodded. “Yes, I see it. It’s a long way away. We should run for it.”
“No, no running. That would be a mistake. Hang on, we’re almost there.”
They kept walking, Zoey half guiding, half supporting the girl when she stumbled in the ankle-deep snow, clumsy in her fear. Sam was breathing fast now, almost panting. Zoey needed her to stay calm. “Sam, wolves almost never attack people. I’m sure it’s just curious. There’s nothing to worry about, we’re just being overly cautious here. You okay?”
Sam jerked her head in what might have been a nod. She was clearly not okay.
“All right, here’s the tree. I’m going to boost you up and you climb up to the next branch and just sit still.”
Zoey set down the stick and cupped her hands for Sam, who gamely scrambled up onto the low branch and reached for the next one. And the next one.
“Sam. Stop climbing. Those higher branches won’t support your weight.”
Sam reached for the next higher branch, climbing in a panic.
Zoey put as much authority into her voice as she could without shouting. “Samantha Leighton, stop right now. Sit down on that branch and do not move.”
Sam was shaking with fear, but finally did as she’d been told, wrapping her arms around the slim trunk of the tree.
Zoey turned around to see the wolf had moved much closer. The thing was huge, easily over a hundred pounds, dark eyes offset by a pure white coat. Beautiful and deadly. Its hackles were raised, mouth slightly open to show its teeth, a predator tracking her every move as she slowly bent to retrieve the stick.
Ferraro was going to kill her for this idiocy. Unless the wolf beat him to it.
What had she been thinking, bringing Sam out here with her? She hadn’t intended to walk this far, to be out of sight of the house. And for her to lose focus, to be even momentarily unaware of their surroundings, was inexcusable. Especially in this place, this close to dusk.
As she slowly straightened, stick in hand, never once taking her eyes off the beast, it pulled back its snout in a snarl and growled low in its throat, bunching muscles as if in preparation to lunge.
Zoey adjusted her stance and crouched slightly in response. Looked like Sam wasn’t the only one having a teachable moment today.
L is for Lessons