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The Graveyard Gymnasium

It's difficult to be a rebel at an all-girls boarding school like Hawthorn, but Charity Hooper tries her hardest, smuggling food into the library and favoring CliffsNotes over boring volumes of literature. In fact, if Hawthorn weren't an all-girls school, she feels certain she would be having a tempestuous affair with a dangerous rogue who copied all his math homework answers from the back of the book.

When Hawthorn hosts a band of exchange students from Romania, Charity knows this is her shot at a tempestuous affair. But after she witnesses an exchange student slurping her roommate's blood one night, she realizes that the Romanians would be less interested in kissing her than in biting her head off. And the Romanians aren't the only vampires lurking on campus, either--according to an old inscription in the school gymnasium, a legion of vampires lie buried alive beneath it.

Does she dare confide in the English teacher she wishes were her BFF, Ms. Van Tessel, who mysteriously saved Charity's bitten roommate with a blood transfusion? But why did Ms. Van Tessel have blood in her mini-fridge in the first place? Can Charity even trust her?

Book 1 of the Hawthorn School series

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Kelly Lougheed

Kelly Lougheed attended an all-girls high school in northern California. She launched her writing career in freshman physics, the class before lunch, where she crafted heart-wrenching poetry about how hungry she was. Soon she was using novel and short story writing as an excuse to stay up late and not brush her hair in the morning. She is currently studying Classics at Brown University, where she draws inspiration from dashing through the library stacks, pretending a vampire is chasing her, and having near death experiences, such as forgetting to wear a hat outside in the snow.

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Excerpt

Chapter One

Hawthorn School Daily Bulletin

All School. Please report to the auditorium for a mandatory assembly during period 2 to greet our Romanian exchange students. Note that improper conduct during assembly—such as talking, braiding your neighbor’s hair, or playing with a cootie catcher to determine which teacher is your soulmate—will result in a behavioral demerit, as will hiding in a closet during the course of the assembly. Thanks, Mr. Edwards.

“Mr. Edwards was only mad because he wasn’t on the cootie catcher,” Charity assured Louise. Resting her arm ultra-casually on the back of her seat, she cast a glance over at the man in the sweater vest who leaned against the auditorium stage, frowning out onto the crowd of chattering girls with fatherly concern. Good, he was distracted. She dug into her skirt pocket, whipped out a cootie catcher, and scrambled to face her friend. “He won’t mind this one—it’s far more intellectual. It tells you your literary soulmate,” she confided. “Quick! Pick a dead author!”

Louise pressed a finger to her lips as she weighed her options on the notebook paper origami: Faulkner, Hemingway, Woolf, Plath. How sophisticated their cootie-catcher was, so far advanced beyond Charity’s childhood “pick a color” devices! Now Charity was so cultured, she could toss out Faulkner and Hemingway references as casually as she tossed her hair.

She hadn’t exactly read Faulkner or Hemingway as much as she had frantically popped up the CliffsNotes on a library computer five minutes before English class (while Louise, who actually read the novels, meandered through the shelves in search of “pleasure reading” and then absurdly checked out books like Crime and Punishment) but she had hung on Mr. Smedley’s every word when he lectured on those dead authors.

Mr. Smedley, the English teacher, rambled in a soothing Southern twang, often interspersing his speech with swear words to prove how cool and rebellious he was. Though wizened and nearly sixty, he entranced Charity with his brooding intellect, especially when he slid on his reading glasses to gaze critically at somebody’s Hamlet essay. And he routinely demonstrated how educated he was by regurgitating famous authors’ words—ask about the essay due date, and he would only stare off into the distance, quoting Longfellow on the fleetingness of time.

Some people grew irritated with this little quirk, but Charity understood him on a deeper level.

“Woolf,” Louise decided, pointing to the appropriate square on the literary soulmate cootie catcher.

“W-O-O-L-F.” Charity cast a furtive glance behind her. What a daring life she led, sneaking unauthorized cootie catchers into assembly! Yesterday she had even smuggled an apple into the library, and taken a whole chomp out of it while skulking down the history section.

Truly, she lived on the edge. If Hawthorn weren’t an all-girls school, she would probably also be having a tempestuous affair with a dangerous rogue who copied all his math homework answers from the back of the book. As it was, however, she just might have to content herself by having an affair with Mr. Smedley.

“Now pick a book,” she instructed. Louise bent over the cootie catcher, considering, while Charity’s eyes darted back to Mr. Edwards.

“Wuthering Heights.”

After muttering the letters to herself, Charity looked up to see Ms. Van Tessel stroll in to the auditorium, Dr Pepper in hand. Good, she was getting her caffeine fix—there had been a dark period last month when Van Tessel had run out of Dr Pepper and conducted a reign of terror, carrying through on her constant threats and actually giving Charity a Uniform Violation for wearing sweatpants under her school skirt (she was just trying not to catch pneumonia! Geez!).

Thankfully those terrible days had come to a close, though Van Tessel still had an annoying habit of enforcing rules and refusing to divulge the secrets of the school administration, no matter how hard Charity pestered her about rumors of a plagiarism scandal or the girl ten years ago who had allegedly gotten pregnant and been expelled.

Charity brought the cootie catcher lower, prepared to cloak it quickly with her overcoat, strategically unbuttoned in case the teacher approached. Last assembly, Van Tessel had confiscated their teacher soulmate cootie catcher, raising her eyebrows at the hearts Charity had dotted around Mr. Smedley’s name, and deeming it “totally disturbing” that they had even included him as a possible soulmate.

Charity was secretly relieved that she wouldn’t have to compete with Ms. Van Tessel for Mr. Smedley’s affections. Although Van Tessel’s hobbies mostly included telling people to button up their shirts and exhorting them to “delve deeper” into the meaning of a poem, her Poetry classes were strangely compelling in a way that poetry—the nonsensical ramblings of overly emotional individuals—should not be.

Alarmingly enough, Charity had at times found herself actually caring what Emily Dickinson had to say. Entranced by Van Tessel’s ability to make the dullest poem worth reading, Charity and Louise frequently found themselves gravitating towards her classroom like the tragic sort of people who actually cared about a poem’s deep meaning.

Louise actually was this tragic sort of person, often chewing her pen thoughtfully in English class as she pondered a poetic metaphor. (Charity, meanwhile, pondered how rapturous it would be for a dangerous rogue to read her a poem as a declaration of amour—a poem he would have torn straight out of a school library book, the villain!) But when middle schoolers were hogging the library computers, Louise served as a convenient walking CliffsNotes, so Charity forgave the severe character flaw of her intellectual curiosity.

“Pick another book.” Charity shoved the origami at Louise and threw a glance behind her. “And be quick. Van Tessel’s coming!”

“Um…” As Louise poured over her options, Charity jiggled her leg, watching Ms. Van Tessel stroll along the rows of sophomores, scanning the class for anyone baring an inappropriate amount of thigh (“inappropriate” being “any”) or pulling a hood over their head, claiming they were trying to keep warm but really hiding headphones. She was headed their way. “Macbeth!”

Charity shoved the flap up to reveal Louise’s literary soulmate. “Your literary soulmate is…the monster of Frankenstein!” she cackled.

Louise’s mouth dropped in outrage. “Let me see that!” she demanded, trying to wrestle the cootie catcher away from Charity, who convulsed with laughter, bending protectively over her creation.

“A-hem.” Someone cleared their throat in a manner which suggested they didn’t actually have any mucous to eradicate from their throat, but really just wanted attention. Charity smiled up at Ms. Van Tessel from where she had trapped Louise’s arm under her own. Still grappling for the cootie catcher, her friend’s arm looked possessed.

“Oh hey, Ms. Van T. I like your hair today,” she said eagerly. Van Tessel had pulled her hair back in a twist. “It looks very teacherly—”

Van Tessel held up her hand to halt Charity’s stream of babble. “Calling me by your ‘affectionate nickname’ or complimenting my hair will not stop me from confiscating your cootie catcher.” She put her hands on her hips, watching Louise’s mouth drop open at the suggestion of such cruelty.

“Ms. Van Tessel.” Charity placed her hand on the teacher’s arm. Ms. Van Tessel raised her eyebrows at Charity’s hand, and then at Charity, who huffed and withdrew it. “Some people are out there axe-murdering their wives and setting buildings on fire, and you are persecuting me for playing with a cootie catcher before assembly? Not even during, but before?”

“You need to put that away,” Ms. Van Tessel told her, brandishing a finger, “and—” She frowned at the origami device, stooping to examine it better. “Does that say Woolf?”

“Yes!” Charity exclaimed, thrilled at this opportunity to impress Ms. Van Tessel with her deep appreciation for literature, or at least for CliffsNotes. “Do you want to know your literary soulmate, Ms. Van Tessel?” She thrust the cootie catcher towards her teacher.

Ms. Van Tessel shot a covert glance at Mr. Edwards, still surveying the mass of girls, and repositioned herself to block the contraband origami from his sight.

“Quickly!” she instructed.

“Pick an author.”

“Hemingway.” Charity swiftly operated the cootie catcher, thinking she ought to venture to the “H” section of the library and pick out the slimmest Hemingway volume so she could better connect with Ms. Van Tessel, who obviously had a predilection for the author.

“Pick a book.”

Ms. Van Tessel inspected her options. “Othello.” Hmm, the Othello CliffsNotes were actually quite exciting, packed with murder and deceit—perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to pick up the actual volume…

“And another?”

“1984.”

Charity lifted the 1984 flap, a grin spreading across her face. “Your literary soulmate is...Madame Defarge!” she gasped, shaking with laughter and toppling onto Louise.

“My soulmate is not Madame Defarge,” Ms. Van Tessel scoffed. She snatched the cootie catcher from Charity’s hands, turning the flaps upwards to examine the possible soulmates.

“You can’t do that!” Charity cried, grasping vainly for the device. “That’s violation of a sacred object!” Horror descended on Ms. Van Tessel’s face as she read the literary soulmates scrawled inside the cootie catcher.

“These options are horrible! This isn’t a soulmate cootie catcher! No one’s soulmate is Godzilla,” she admonished Charity. “That’s not even literary. Put that away, and button up your shirt. You are not going to entrance the Romanian boys by exposing two extra inches of flesh.”

The Romanians! Charity had forgotten why the entire school had crowded into the auditorium in the first place, huddling together for each other’s body heat, sheltered from the fierce fall wind. She had just been so delighted to skip Geometry class and show Louise the cootie catcher she’d crafted. For naturally Louise was in Geometry Honors, while Charity suffered through regular Geometry, writing dramatic free form poetry about the teacher’s droning voice.

Charity pretended that she’d voluntarily dropped out of the honors program to the regular level, but truthfully she’d been kicked out of honors after failing last year’s Algebra final. But flunking math just meant that she was such a sensitive and volatile creature, she couldn’t handle the cold insensitivity of numbers. Mr. Smedley would understand.

So would the Romanian exchange students. Soon onto the stage would parade a line of brooding foreigners in black turtlenecks, fingers ready to whip out a pocket notebook if a line of poetry ever sprung to mind. They would speak their thoughts in broken, accented English, but the passion in their eyes would need no translation. Perhaps she would find her soulmate in one of them, and use him to drive Mr. Smedley into wild fits of jealousy.

“I wasn’t trying to entrance people,” she protested, fastening the last two buttons of her shirt as per the uniform regulations. “My fingers were cold this morning—”

“When your fingers get gangrene and fall off, then you’ll have an excuse,” Ms. Van Tessel informed her. Then she gave a dazzling smile to Louise. “Hello, Louise. How are you?”

“Oh, I’m fine, thanks,” Louise assured her, flushing at this direct address and glancing down at her lap, twisting her fingers together. Before Louise could strike up some exclusionary conversation like “Oh, Ms. Van T, I read that monstrously thick and astonishingly dull volume of poems you recommended to me yesterday” that would leave Charity sitting stupidly beside her, having to feign fascination with her fingernails, she intervened.

“So Ms. Van T, are the exchange students really all boys? And how would you rate their attractiveness, on a scale of 1 to 10?” She gave her teacher a conspiratorial look to demonstrate that although they were twenty years apart, and could not exactly pass notes in history class together, they were still BFFs of the soul.

“They’re all boys?” Louise echoed. “Is that really a representative sample of the Romanian population?”

Charity blinked. Was that really the concern at the moment? Incredible: she could not detect one trace of drool on Louise’s mouth at the thought of these male specimens.

“Is this some ploy of the school to make us warm to their new ‘global initiative’ by presenting us with young, attractive males over whom we are supposed to swoon?” Louise asked shrewdly, buttering up Van Tessel with her usage of the word “whom.”

“The school is trying to create opportunities for you to socialize with members of the opposite sex to ensure you do not graduate completely lacking in social skills.” Ms. Van Tessel smiled kindly.

Ignoring this slight on her social skills (she totally had them! She would think up an example to prove this later), Charity plunged on. “So they are all boys?”

“Yes, because they are from an all-boys school.”

“Ooh.” Charity wished there was an all-boys school nearby so she could sneak out at night and have secret trysts with a forbidden lover by the flagpole. “Will they be our brother school?”

“What’s the point of a brother school if they’re eight thousand miles away?” Louise wanted to know. She had probably calculated the distance between Romania and San Francisco in her head, because she had nothing better to do in her mind, like daydream about torrid romances with brooding writers and virile vampires. “It’s not like they could come to our dances.”

“It’s not like they would want to come to our dances,” Charity remarked, feeling sophisticated as she scornfully tossed her hair. She had once dragged Louise to the dark gymnasium, which thudded with music, expecting to impress legions of boys from neighborhood schools with the non-awkward shimmy she had been practicing in her dorm room each night.

Unfortunately, she had spotted a sad total of three boys in the gym, each monopolized by one of her classmates and looking vastly uncomfortable as math teachers with rulers hovered over them to ensure the couple stayed the mandatory five inches apart.

Charity had tried to casually bob to the music, hoping one of the boys would glance over and develop a deep respect for her courage as she danced alone (Louise had disappeared underneath the bleachers with a book she had inexplicably brought along) and then zoom over and propose marriage.

Instead, a teacher had glanced over and made her put on a sweatshirt, pronouncing her swooping neckline inappropriate (as if anyone of the opposite sex would actually look over and appreciate its inappropriateness). After nearly dying of heatstroke in the sweatshirt, Charity had grabbed Louise and fled to the coatroom (a nearby classroom), where they spent the next three hours discussing how they never wanted to get married anyway.

But perhaps her life was changing now. Perhaps an exchange student would be forced to endure her Geometry class, and distract himself from the excruciating boredom of polygons by admiring her wild and wavy hair. And then—marvel of marvels!—she would thrust her hand into the air and answer a question about the Pythagorean Theorem in a dulcet tone.

He would corner her after class and expound on how awed he was by how she managed to be both beautiful and intelligent. She would shrug modestly, but then they would walk to lunch together and find a table outside alone and confess to each other all their darkest secrets and then promise themselves to each other for all eternity. At the end of his stay, before he boarded the school van that would cart him away to the airport, he would wipe away her tears with his soft fingers (which he would have washed before, with sweet-scented antibacterial soap) and promise to write her every day.

Then she would pine for him, lolling around on her dorm room bed, wishing she could skip over to the exchange students’ residence and spill her innermost thoughts to him once more. But she would endure, by eating chocolate and penning tragic letters to her lover. She would have to do multiple drafts of these letters, making sure her flowing cursive was as aesthetically pleasing as she was. Or perhaps, consumed by raging fire, her lover would be so overjoyed to read her amorous sentiments, he wouldn’t mind that she had scribbled “I love you” like a drunken kindergartener.

Ms. Van Tessel was frowning at a student in the row behind them. “Are you wearing lipstick?” she demanded, whipping out a tissue and marching over. Mr. Edwards was climbing the stairs to the stage, causing the chatter to peter out. Charity turned her head to watch Van Tessel gesturing for some freshmen to budge over so she could fit onto the end of the row.

“Next time,” she muttered to Louise, “we should offer Van Tessel a seat next to us, so she can admire our witty and scathing commentary of the assembly.”

“She’d probably just tell us to shut up.”

“You two!” They whipped around in their seats to see Van Tessel brandishing a finger at them. “Be quiet!” she hissed, settling into her seat with her Dr Pepper, notepad, and pen as Mr. Edwards cleared his throat at the podium.