Home > Glass Houses (The Morganville Vampires #1)

Glass Houses (The Morganville Vampires #1)
Author: Rachel Caine

Chapter One

On the day Claire became a member of the Glass House, somebody stole her laundry.

When she reached into the crappy, beat-up washing machine, she found nothing but the wet slick sides of the drum, and - like a bad joke - the worst pair of underwear she owned, plus one sock. She was in a hurry, of course - there were only a couple of machines on this top floor of Howard Hall, the least valued and most run-down rooms in the least valued, most run-down dorm. Two washing machines, two dryers, and you were lucky if one of them was working on any given day and didn't eat your quarters. Forget about the dollar-bill slot. She'd never seen it work, not in the last six weeks since she'd arrived at school.

"No," she said out loud, and balanced herself on the edge of the washer to look down into the dark, partly rusted interior. It smelled like mold and cheap detergent. Getting a closer look didn't help.

One crappy pair of underwear, fraying at the seams. One sock.

She was missing every piece of clothing that she'd worn in the last two weeks. Every piece that she actually wanted to wear.

"No!" She yelled it into the washer, where it echoed back at her, and slumped back down, then kicked the washer violently in the dent made by all the other disappointed students before her. She couldn't breathe. She had some other clothes - a few - but they were last-choice clothes, oh-my-God-wouldn't-be-caught-dead clothes. Pants that were too short and made her look like a hick, shirts that were too big and too stupid, and made her look like her mom had picked them out. And she had.

Claire had about three hundred dollars left to last her for, well, months, after the latest round of calling out for pizza and buying yet another book for Professor Clueless Euliss, who didn't seem to have figured out yet what subject he was teaching.

She supposed she could find some clothes, if she looked around, that wouldn't totally blow her entire budget. After all, downtown Morganville, Texas, was the thrift shop capital of the world. Assuming she could find anything she could stand to wear.

Mom said this would happen, she thought. I just have to think. Keep my cool.

Claire threw herself into an orange plastic chair, dumped her backpack on the scratched linoleum, and put her head in her hands. Her face felt hot, and she was shaking, and she knew, just knew, that she was going to cry. Cry like the baby they all said she was, too young to be here, too young to be away from Mommy.

It sucked to be smart, because this was where it got you.

She gulped deep, damp breaths and sat back, willing herself not to bawl (because they'd hear), and wondered if she could call Mom and Dad for an extension on her allowance, or use the credit card that was "just for emergencies."

Then she saw the note. Not so much "note" as graffiti, but it was addressed to her, on the painted cinder-block wall above the machines.

DEAR DORK, it read, WE FOUND TRASH IN THE MACHINES AND THREW IT DOWN THE CHUTE. IF YOU WANT IT, DIVE FOR IT.

"Shit," she breathed, and had to blink back tears again, for an entirely different reason. Blind, stupid rage.

Monica. Well, Monica and the Monickettes, anyway. Why was it the hot mean girls always ran in packs, like hyenas? And why, with all the shimmery hair and long tanned legs and more of Daddy's money than Daddy's accountants, did they have to focus on her?

No, she knew the answer to that.

She'd made Monica look stupid in front of her friends, and some hot upperclassmen. Not that it had been all that hard; she'd just been walking by, heard Monica saying that World War II had been "that dumbass Chinese war thing."

And by simple reflex, she'd said, "It wasn't." The whole lot of them, slouched all over the couches in the dorm lobby, looked at her with as much blank surprise as if the Coke machine had just spoken up.

Monica, her friends, three of the cool older frat boys.

"World War II," Claire had plunged on, panicked and not quite sure how to get out of what she'd gotten herself into. "I just meant - well, it wasn't the Korean War. That was later. World War II was with the Germans and the Japanese. You know, Pearl Harbor?"

And the guys had looked at Monica and laughed, and Monica had flushed - not much, but enough to ruin the cool perfection of her makeup. "Remind me not to buy any history papers off of you," the cutest of the guys had said. "What kind of dumbass doesn't know that?" Though Claire had been sure none of them had, really. "Chinese. Riiiiight."

Claire had seen the fury in Monica's eyes, quickly covered over with smiles and laughter and flirting.

Claire had ceased to exist again, for the guys.

For the girls, she was brand-new, and unwelcome as hell. She'd been dealing with it all her life. Smart and small and average-looking wasn't exactly winning the life lottery; you had to fight for it, whatever it was. Somebody was always laughing at, or hitting, or ignoring you, or a combination of the first two.

She'd thought when she was a kid that getting laughed at was the worst thing, and then - after the first couple of school-yard showdowns - getting hit jumped up to number one. But for most of her (brief, two-year) high school experience, being ignored was worse by far. She'd gotten there a year earlier than everybody else, and left a year ahead of them. Nobody liked that.

Nobody but teachers, anyway.

The problem was that Claire really loved school. Loved books, and reading, and learning things - okay, not calculus, but pretty much everything else. Physics. What normal girl loved physics? Abnormal ones.

Ones who were not ever going to be hot.

And face it, being hot? That was what life was all about. As Monica had proved, when the world had wobbled off its axis for a few seconds to notice Claire, and then wobbled right back to revolve around the pretty ones.

It wasn't fair. She'd dived in and worked her ass off through high school. Graduated with a perfect 4.0, scored high enough on the tests to qualify for admission to the great schools, the legendary schools, the ones where being a brainiac mutant girl-freak wasn't necessarily a downside. (Except that, of course, at those schools, there were probably hot tall leggy brainiac mutant girl-freaks.) Didn't matter. Mom and Dad had taken one look at the stack of enthusiastic thumbs-up replies from universities like MIT and Caltech and Yale, and clamped down hard. No way was their sixteen-year-old daughter (nearly seventeen, she kept insisting, although it wasn't really true) going to run off three thousand miles to go to school. At least not at first. (Claire had tried, unsuccessfully, to get across the concept that if anything would kill her budding academic career worse than being a transfer student at one of those places, it was being a transfer student from Texas Prairie University. Otherwise known as TPEwwwwwww.)

 

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