It’s out, it’s out! So happy to announce that the new Riverdale Ave Books edition of THE TOWER AND THE TEARS is now live and in hand! Ebook, paperback, and audio, all available from all your favorite sellers. And look at that gorgeous new cover.
Keep reading for a sample chapter!
Kyle was surprised to hear his cell phone ringing at nine in the morning. He cracked open an eye and fumbled for the phone in his pack, knocking a few things out onto the floor, not even sure where he and Alex were. Then he recognized the enclosed porch they’d been sharing as a bedroom for the past two weeks. They’d moved around so much this summer that in his half-asleep state his brain needed to catch up.
“Kyle Wadsworth?” The voice had a slightly disapproving tone, and it was familiar, yet he couldn’t quite place it.
“Um, yes?” But then he suddenly had it. “Master Brandish?”
“Quite. You’re late for orientation.”
“Orientation?” Kyle sat up, blinking. “I thought classes didn’t start until—”
“Have you not been receiving letters or email? You are supposed to be attending the freshman orientation you missed last year.”
“Oh, sh—um…when did it start?”
“I’m on Cape Cod.” Kyle began to fish around, stuffing scattered belongings back into his pack, then stopped when something he picked up made a crunching sound. He set the small black square aside and began to look for his jeans. “So I’m not that far away.”
“Well, thank mighty Minerva for that,” she said drily. “I suggest you be here by two o’clock if possible, when we are having a house meeting in the common room.”
“I’m packing right now. Thanks for calling.” He flipped the phone shut and pulled on the jeans he found hung on the back of the door.
Alex was either still unconscious or pretending to be, sprawled halfway off the mattress on the floor. There was still a smudge of paint on his forehead, mostly obscured by his hair.
Kyle’s own hair was nearly as wild, sun-bleached and overgrown from a summer spent bumming around the beach towns of the Cape with Alex, picking up odd jobs when they had to, like this last one, helping a guy named Jones repaint his boat and staying on his porch in exchange.
Somehow Alex always found them a place to sleep when it was raining, or a bar with free appetizers when they were nearly broke and hungry, or a ride to the next town when it was time to move on.
What Kyle needed now was to get back to Boston. Well, to Cambridge. To Harvard. To Veritas. He buttoned his jeans and nudged Alex on the foot. “Hey.”
“Hay is for horses,” Alex said and rolled over, hiding his head under one arm.
“I’m going back. Apparently I was supposed to be there yesterday.” Kyle hunted around to see if he had a clean shirt. “Shit. That probably means they’ve been bombarding Agatha with letters.” Although, he thought, he hadn’t received a phone call from his great-aunt. Perhaps she’d been tossing them out, afraid they were bills. “How should I get back?”
“Bus, train, boat, or hitch,” Alex mumbled, then forced himself to sit up. “I can’t remember. What town are we in?”
“Onset.” It was a nice little town, not crammed with tourists like some and not overbuilt with rich people’s summer homes like others.
Alex grunted. “Hitch. You need me to come with, or have you got the knack now?”
“Jones’s boat isn’t finished.” Kyle chewed his lip for a moment, classes and campus seeming unreal and far away and the life of living hand to mouth and painting the boat seeming very present and compelling.
“Tsk. What’s more important, the boat or your education? I’ll stay and finish the boat. It’s almost done, anyhow.” Alex shook out his hair. “You mean you’re leaving this second?”
“Yeah. Brandish wants me there for a house meeting at two.”
“Circe’s creamy left tit,” Alex swore. “And it’s what, noon now?”
Kyle checked his phone. “No, only nine.”
“Oh, well, in that case…” Alex fell back into a heap and pulled the pillow over his face. “See you when I get there,” he said, voice muffled by the pillow.
Kyle laughed. “All right.” He pulled on a shirt, rolled his jacket up and put it in the top of his pack, then finished picking up his belongings.
The square of black plastic opened to show two ovals, one of peacock blue eyeshadow, one of glass. A makeup mirror. It was shattered. Kyle had no idea where he’d gotten it. Somewhere along the way one of the women he or Alex had met must have left it. He closed it carefully, small slivers crunching, and tossed it into the garbage can out back as he made his way to the road.
* * * *
Kyle walked into Gladius House with his hair askew, his cheeks peeling a little from sunburn, and his pack on his shoulder, to find the common room crowded with people. He checked the time on his phone. No, there was still a half hour until the meeting Master Brandish had mentioned. He hoped he had time to grab a shower and put on the requisite house colors. Seeing as he was a sophomore now, no doubt Brandish would expect him to at least be wearing a shirt or cardigan with the house crest.
He bounded up the stairs to the tower, only to remember halfway up that he did not have a key yet. He headed back down, looking for an upperclassman or one of their resident tutors, but he didn’t see anyone who looked helpful.
He gave in and went to knock on Master Brandish’s door.
She opened it herself, and he was surprised to see she was dressed in full robes.
“Isn’t that a bit warm for the weather?” he said.
She frowned. “And good afternoon to you, too, Mr. Wadsworth. Is that any way to greet someone?”
Kyle refused to be cowed, though. He felt a kind of confidence flowing through him he rarely did last year. He grinned. “It was a sincere question, and I was taught it was rude to answer a question with a question.”
That got a grudging smirk out of her. “May I help you then?”
“Here to apologize for being late. I didn’t realize I was supposed to come to orientation, and I haven’t been getting mail all summer.” He followed her into the apartment, through the hallway of books and into the ornate parlor. “I haven’t been checking email, either.”
“So I gathered,” she said as she dug through a cardboard box for something.
“And, um, well, I guess I need my room key?”
She pulled a small envelope out of the box. “Yes, I gathered that, too.” She handed it to him. “You know the drill. Lose it at your peril, or at the very least a fifty-dollar fee. Your trunk is still in the basement, I believe. You’ll have to drag it up yourself. Though at least only to the second floor.”
Kyle blinked. “Second floor? I’m not in the ‘tower’ anymore?”
She regarded him with a measuring gaze. “I was never under the impression that you enjoyed being isolated up there. We normally don’t put anyone in that room if we can help it.”
“Oh. All right. It’s just…I hadn’t thought about that before. Okay.” He slipped the envelope with the key into his pocket. “Thanks.”
“I’d also suggest you get over to the health center,” she added. “There’s a battery of tests you need to go through before you start your esoteric arts class, you know. Better safe than sorry and all that.”
Kyle nodded, hoping the blush on his cheeks wasn’t too obvious as he left to seek out his new quarters.
The full implications of room reassignment didn’t sink in until he opened the door to the new room and found half of it occupied by someone else’s things. Like most of the rooms, it was made for two.
One bed was made, one desk already cluttered, and one half of the shelf near the door was taken up with books and possessions. The closet was hung with sweaters and things. His actual roommate was nowhere to be found, though. Kyle hurried down to the basement to bring up his trunk, pulling out a towel and school clothes and hurrying to the bathroom in the hall.
In fifteen minutes he was washed and dressed, his wet hair combed back and looking nearly as dark as usual now that it was damp. His clothes smelled a little musty from being in the basement for three months, and the shirt with the crest on the pocket was a bit wrinkled, but there was no time to do anything about that now.
He made it into the dining hall as Master Brandish was calling the meeting to order. He slipped in the back and down to a seat at the end of one of the tables.
Seated at a small table facing the students were four people, two of whom Kyle knew. There was Talia Pisk, a resident tutor from last year, and Caitlyn Speyer, who had been a resident advisor last year and, he assumed, must be again. The mystery of the other two was soon solved, as Master Brandish introduced them to the assembled freshmen as Brandon Buckle, a new resident tutor, and Esther Dearborn, the new RA. Now Kyle recognized her as a student from last year, but she’d changed her hair both in color and style, and she hadn’t been someone he knew well anyway.
Master Brandish was going on about the traditions of Gladius House and Kyle found himself only listening with one ear. He looked around at the students seated near him. To his left was a blond girl, already in a feminine-cut house sweater a tad small for her, accentuating her bust. Her makeup was subtle and perfect, and she had well-manicured nails, looking just that much more put-together than everyone else. Most of the students, both male and female, were in tank tops, shorts, and flip-flops, not yet attired for formal house functions.
Perhaps it was something about spending the summer with Alex—mooching off whomever was willing, and the willing so often turning out to be pretty girls who were as eager to find someone for attachment-free casual sex as they had been—that caused him to take such note of her.
Alex had never come out and said it, but Kyle suspected their summer adventures were Alex’s way of helping him get over Jess, and bringing sex back to a normal, non-magical level for him. Although as Kyle was learning, sex and magic couldn’t be completely separated in his case.
When Master Brandish suggested the new students get to know one another by turning to the person adjacent and telling them one thing they hoped to learn this year at Veritas, Kyle turned to the girl and said, “One thing, hm? How about your name?”
She let out a short, somewhat condescending laugh. “Zelda Garrett. And you?”
“Kyle Wadsworth. And what’s the one thing you hope to learn?”
“Oh, the secrets of the universe, to be sure. I might settle for why the sky is blue, though.” She looked back toward the front of the room, her duty to speak to Kyle having been discharged.
Huh. Kyle had been given the brush-off plenty of times that summer, but he wondered what motivated her to dismiss him now.
Then Brandish was speaking again, explaining the pecking order, and he turned to playing the game of trying to guess which person here was his roommate. Whoever it was had clothes of mostly gray and blue, and a lot of soft baggy things like sweatpants. That wasn’t much to go on.
There didn’t appear to be anything in this orientation session that Kyle didn’t already know. Where the Master’s door was, protocol for meals, the arrangement of the house library, the expectations for “Tea with the Master.” Speyer spoke a bit about their intention to hold another Masque when Mardi Gras rolled around. Kyle grinned at that.
Then a group headed out to play kickball, another to play Frisbee, some to contra-dance practice. Kyle figured he was exempted from doing these things and decided to head upstairs to unpack properly.
On the way out of the common room, though, he was greeted by a sight in the stairwell that made him stare. Zelda Garrett was there, being bent back by the force of a rather hungry, quite sensual-looking kiss from none other than Timothy Frost.
They broke apart and stared back. “Um. Hello, Frost,” Kyle said, wondering if he should hurry past them or what.
“Wadsworth,” Frost said in return with a stiff nod of his head. “Have you…?”
“We’ve met,” Garrett said, no warmth in her voice. Kyle practically expected her to jump back and hiss like a cat at him given her expression.
Kyle looked back at Frost. He appeared to have grown two or three inches over the summer, and looked nowhere near as pale as he had last year. Frost seemed to be waiting for something.
Probably for me to leave, Kyle thought. He had thought maybe saving Frost’s life might have warmed the upperclassman to him, but apparently Kyle had offended his girlfriend somehow. Perversely, this made Kyle all the more determined to talk to them rather than leaving them alone. “Have a good summer, did you?”
The corner of Frost’s mouth twitched. “Very funny, Wadsworth.”
Frost shook his head. “You have no idea, do you? The only good part about it was I met Zelda.” He pulled her hip snug with his own. “Now, if you’ll excuse us…” He pulled her by the hand down the stairs past Kyle, heading for the common room or outdoors. Kyle could hear her whispering to Frost before they even got out of earshot.
He went up to his room and made his bed, then lay down on it and texted Alex. Why would Frost’s summer have sucked?
He had fallen asleep when the phone beeped to let him know he had a message in reply. If yr boyfriend turned out to be a soul-sucking fiend, wouldn’t yours? Then a minute later: For real. Sirens are addictive. Withdrawal sux.
Kyle thought about trying to write a poem about that. Then decided maybe the topic was better off left alone just now.
* * * *
Orientation turned out to be interesting. Kyle hadn’t gone through the process before, so he’d completely missed the early stages of the formation of the pecking order for his own class. Much as he disdained the whole concept himself, it was sort of fascinating to watch. Zelda was quickly established near the top of her class, what with her dating an esteemed upperclassman in Frost, though Frost’s own standing had slid somewhat because of his absence and the fact that he was now a semester behind the rest of the juniors.
Kyle had little idea about his own standing since without the other members of the house around all he knew was he was ahead of the new students. Or he assumed he was. Speyer talked to him like an equal, which boded well. Catching the siren had been a major feather in Kyle’s cap, though he certainly hadn’t done it for the fame. He did get some odd looks from some of the frosh, but he couldn’t tell if that was because Zelda looked at him like he smelled bad or if it was the effect of gossip going around about last year’s events. He didn’t pay it much attention.
Instead he was paying attention to the fortunes of others. He didn’t have to guess who the low man on the totem pole was going to be. It was clear from the first that it would be his own roommate, Glendon Witt. Kyle knew things would be tough when at one of the first meals they had together, dinner that first night in the dining hall—no one sitting in rank order or anything yet—people were making jokes about his name. And not very good jokes. Half-Witt. Witt-less. How lame.
Glendon had seemed oblivious to it, though. Kyle had tried to talk to him about it that night in their room. “You know, when I was in high school people used to pick on me and make fun of my name.”
Glendon looked up from the book he was reading with the pages quite close to his face. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, looking slightly puzzled.
“That all changed when I got here. I mean, yeah, there’s always some…jockeying in this house. Always someone trying to put you down.” He thought of Frost insinuating that Kyle might not be magical. Was that all it was? Just the pecking order? “But it isn’t because they don’t like you.” This explanation had gone off the rails already and Kyle tried to remember the point he was making.
“Why should they like me?” Glendon said, blinking somewhat owlishly. “They don’t even know me.”
“Um, that’s not the point,” Kyle said, while trying to get back on track. “What I’m trying to say is, you don’t have to be treated the way you were in high school here.”
“I was home schooled,” Glendon said. Then comprehension seemed to dawn. “Are you trying to be nice to me?”
Kyle wasn’t sure whether to laugh at that or not. He decided not to. “Yeah. Yeah, I am. I guess I’m trying to say don’t let the petty stuff they do bother you or stop you from making friends. I’m a lot happier than I was in high school, even if I am in Gladius House and all my friends are in Camella House.”
Glendon nodded but Kyle wasn’t sure what he had said got through.
“So, um,” Kyle fished about for something to change the subject with. “What’s your aptitude?”
Glendon shrugged. “Don’t know whether I’m going to major in poetry or numerology.”
“Yes. I suppose it’s too early for me to decide anyway. I should take some classes first.”
And that got them onto the subject of eccentric Professor Bengle and his almost omnipresent leather jacket, and the rest of the conversation seemed more or less normal, but later Kyle would lie awake thinking Glendon Witt really didn’t connect with other people. He was nice enough, but somehow coming at life from an odd angle. Kyle wondered if maybe he had ancestors who were some kind of inscrutable magical creature for whom humans were only a passing interest. Sphinxes? Black dragons? He’d have to ask Alex.
Kyle also learned during orientation what it took for a Veritas student to participate in Harvard athletics, how to avoid getting mugged in downtown Boston, and the importance of a diverse class load.
Alex arrived four days later looking just as scruffy as when Kyle had last seen him. Kyle had been eating every meal at Gladius House and it only felt like he was really back on campus when he went into the Scipionis House dining hall, and there were Kate and Marigold and Randall, being regaled by Alex with tales of their summer at the beach.
Kyle got his food first, then took a seat on Marigold’s other side. She turned, suddenly noticing him, and squealed and hugged him around the neck. “Yeah, uh, nice to see you too,” Kyle said, then pretended he was choking.
She hit him lightly on the shoulder and the others were all talking at once then, but when Kyle looked up he noticed Alex giving him an odd look. As soon as Alex noticed he had noticed, he looked away. Kyle put it out of his mind. Alex would tell him sooner or later whatever was on his mind.
“You’re going to take section two of the prophecy class!” Kate gushed to Kyle. “I saw your name on the registration list. I’m TAing again.”
“Yeah.” Kyle slurped up some soup while he had the chance. “Hey, did you know it’s possible to major in poetry? I didn’t know that.”
“Oh, yes,” she answered. “It’s a half-and-half degree. Half Harvard, half Veritas. Not often done, though. Not even by the great poets.”
“You haven’t met with Brandish about declaring yet?” Alex asked, sitting back down now that the attention was on Kyle.
“I did. End of last year. But she didn’t mention poetry. We figured until I took some more classes in some other departments I couldn’t really be sure what direction I should go.” Kyle suddenly found his cheeks getting hot as the words were already tumbling out of his mouth. “I haven’t taken any esoteric arts yet. But Master Brandish thought…she thinks that I ought to, so I signed up for one.”
Marigold and Kate both grinned at him like hungry lionesses, or so it seemed to Kyle.
“Is she teaching the seminar you’re taking?” Alex asked.
“No. Some guy. Professor Hillman. And Marjory is the teaching assistant.”
Randall tapped his chin. “I think that’s the class Cee’s taking.”
“Ciara, you mean?” Kyle remembered her from his first-semester poetry class last year.
“Yes. She was talking about it this afternoon when we were unpacking,” Randall went on. “I think she has a bit of a crush on Professor Hillman.”
“Well, he is kind of cute, for an old guy,” Kate said.
Marigold wrinkled her nose. “Not my type.”
Kyle had never seen the man in question. “What type is he?”
Marigold laughed. “Okay, you know those books with the guy on the cover with the like waist-length wavy red hair and his shirt torn open to reveal his ripped physique?”
Kate clucked her tongue. “It’s not waist-length.”
“It’s past his shoulders, anyway,” Marigold insisted.
Kyle chuckled, listening to them bicker while he concentrated on eating. He paused when someone else approached the table, though. He looked up. “Hello, Michael.”
“Hello, Kyle.” Michael Candlin looked much the same: silk-straight hair, round glasses and even rounder eyes, but something about him felt different. Kyle watched him swallow, standing there stock still. “Have you…how was your summer?”
“Good,” Kyle answered automatically.
Michael rushed out the next question before he could stop himself. “Have you seen Timothy?”
Marigold got up quickly. “You look like you haven’t eaten. Let’s get some food before we chitchat, hmm?” She herded him toward the salad bar. Kate hopped up and went with them.
Randall and Alex trained their gazes on Kyle. “Well, have you seen Frost?”
Kyle nodded. “Looks like he grew a few inches, and he’s got a girlfriend now. A blond freshman named Zelda.”
Randall laughed and held up his hands like he was carrying two cantaloupes. “I’ve met her. She’ll be in the class I’m assisting. Well, he didn’t waste much time.”
Alex chuckled. “Sounds like he wanted a change of pace, too. Can’t say I blame him.”
“He’s still an annoying prick,” Kyle said, starting on his dessert. He had finished it before the others returned, and when Alex suggested they take a walk, Kyle went.
They skirted around the Elwyn Library to another segment of the Yard where a few students were playing Frisbee, and ended up sitting on the wide stone steps of another building. “What happened to you?” Alex asked.
“What are you talking about?” Kyle leaned back on his elbows, frowning.
“You’ve got a dark cloud hanging over you.”
“You do. I’m sure not everyone sees it, but I do.”
Alex shrugged. “Just the way my magic works, I guess. You didn’t break a mirror, did you?”
“Of course not, I…” Kyle broke off, though, blinking in sudden comprehension.
“Circe’s tit, you did.”
That little makeup mirror that had been in his backpack. He swallowed. “I did. Is that bad?”
“What in Mother Shipton’s stinky knickers did they teach you in that soothsaying class?” Alex pulled some grass out of a crack in the stone and twirled it in his fingers. “Didn’t you have a whole section on bad luck? Walking under ladders and all that?”
Kyle racked his brain, but he couldn’t remember anything about mirrors. “We had a whole section on omens and there wasn’t anything about mirrors in there!”
“The broken mirror isn’t an omen so much as a mild curse, I guess,” Alex said with a frown, twisting the grass into the shape of a ring. “Because you did it, you changed something in your magical reality. Not good.”
“So what do I do to counteract it?”
Alex sighed, looking at Kyle through the ring of braided grass. “Usually you have to let it run its course. It’s like you’ve got a fever now. And things you could have done to strengthen yourself before, once you have it, might only make it worse.”
Kyle shook his head. “It was a really small mirror. And it wasn’t even mine.”
“Well, that’s good. Maybe it’ll pass quickly, then. Probably won’t kill you, anyway. But be careful going up and down stairs and that kind of thing.” Alex sighed, tossing the bit of grass away. “Anyone else who sees things like I do may try to avoid you, though.”
“Is that why the freshmen are all looking at me funny?”
“Well, I dunno about all. But anyone who is attuned to luck…”
“Is that how you do it?” Kyle blurted out. “I’ve never heard you talk about it so… scientifically before.”
Alex laughed. “What, did you think it was…just magic?“
* * * *
Kyle found himself nervous that night as he tried to get to sleep. In the morning he’d have his first class in esoteric studies. He’d heard all the jokes by now about “hands-on” homework and so on, but he wasn’t much worried about that. It was Brandish’s discipline after all; it wasn’t as if the other Glads would look down on him for studying it. The jokes were prompted by nothing more than people being nervous about sex, and public acknowledgement of the fact that those in esoteric arts didn’t have the same kind of sex as other people. The rumors about them having sex for exams were probably true, given that he had to be certified free of any STDs before he could take the class.
Of course people were nervous, Kyle thought. He sure as hell was. Now, it wasn’t as if they were going to have an orgy on the first day of class, were they? He told himself of course not, but he didn’t really know. And his imagination had a way of running away with him…
Read the rest in The Tower and the Tears!