Empress of the World

BOOK: Empress of the World
13.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Table of Contents
Mom and Dad, all the friends I conned into
reading drafts
(you know who you are), UWG, STEW, Sharyn,
and especially Steve.
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York
10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England
First published in 2001 by Viking, a division of Penguin Putnam
Books for Young Readers.
Copyright © Sara Ryan, 2001
All rights reserved
Ryan, Sara.
Empress of the world / Sara Ryan.
p. cm.
Summary: While attending a summer institute, fifteen-year-old Nic
meets another girl named Battle, falls in love with her, and
finds the relationship to be difficult and confusing.
eISBN : 978-1-101-11839-9
[1. Lesbians—Fiction. 2. Homosexuality—Fiction.
3. Bisexuality—Fiction. 4. Schools—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.R957 Em 2001 [Fic]—dc21 00-052758
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


for Victoria, Susan,
and Harry
O Fortuna
velut luna
statu variabilis,
semper crescis
aut decrescis . . .
O Fortune, you are changeable like the moon, ever waxing and waning . . .
-from “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi”
(Fortune, Empress of the World),
Carmina Burana, Cantiones Profanae
Part One
June 14, 4 p.m., Prucher Hall Auditorium
I am sitting cross-legged on an uncomfortable seat, waiting for a speech to start. It has been approximately forty-five minutes since Mom and Dad left me here. I am going to be here for the whole summer, and I do not know a single person.
I open my big new journal. So far all it has is a title page which says “Field Notes” in block letters. I turn to the first blank page and write:
hypothesis: taking an actual class in archaeology will serve to confirm nicola lancaster in her lifelong dream of becoming an archaeologist.
I scratch out “lifelong dream,” because it doesn’t sound scientific enough, and write “proposed vocation,” but that sounds pompous, so I write “lifelong dream” again, and then above it, in larger letters, “ignore: this is dumb.” Then I write: “speech notes” just in case I actually take any.
A large pink bald man in a navy blue suit that’s slightly too small for him walks up to the podium in the middle of the stage. He taps the microphone a couple of times until he gets the proper loud staticky clicking sound.
“Greetings, everyone. I’m so pleased to welcome you all to the Siegel Institute Summer Program for Gifted Youth. You are exceptionally talented, and we at the institute are privileged to serve as guides for this stage of your educational explorations.”
if you bottled his voice, you would never have to buy cooking oil again.
I look around.
who else is being forced to listen?
scary-looking kids in the front. guys with bad hair, button-down shirts, and ties. girls in perfect pastel floral-print dresses. one redheaded guy wearing a three-piece suit. mostly white, some asians, a few black kids. as usual, each ethnic group member is only sitting with other people from the same ethnic group. four disgusted-looking girls sitting together, dressed in all black with dyed black hair: the goth ethnic group?
Two seats over on the right is a tall, solid girl with gray-blue eyes and a lot of curly red hair. She is wearing a green velvet dress and black sandals, and is carefully painting her toenails the same shade of green as the dress. Her fingernails are purple. I start to sketch her. I want to see if I can get her hair and her look of total concentration.
I get her expression but screw up her hair, then ruin her expression in the process of trying to fix her hair.
On my left are a boy and another girl. The boy has wavy, longish, dark brown hair, caterpillaresque eyebrows, octagonal glasses, and I don’t know what his eyes look like; they’re closed. He won’t notice me drawing because he’s asleep. Deeply asleep—I see drool glistening at one corner of his mouth.
I draw his closed eyes and his open mouth. I have a hard time with the drool. It ends up looking more prominent than it actually is.
I look back up on stage. “It is necessary to understand that giftedness qua giftedness, that is to say giftedness as giftedness, is not sufficient armor with which to attack the modern world.”
you don’t attack with armor. armor is a defense.
I sketch Large Pink Bald Man: an egg with arms and legs, and a smaller egg on top for the head. The resemblance to Humpty Dumpty is uncanny, so I draw a wall, then a second sketch—of his great fall. Splat.
The girl on my left has the most beautiful hair I have ever seen. It’s blonde and very long, thick, simple, and heavy. All the blonde girls I know do so much crap to their hair. They curl, spray, and gel it into submission. Actually, that’s not true; there are the hippie girls who part it in the middle and braid it, but they’re the exception. This girl’s hair doesn’t look like that. You’d think that with the heat, she’d put it up, but it’s just hanging down her back. And it’s blonde, all right, but not platinum blonde, and not that really yellowy blonde, either. Honey is the closest color, but it would have to be different kinds of honey that are different shades, like alfalfa and clover, and maybe some spices too, like ginger and cumin. Of course, this doesn’t really matter, because all I have is a pencil and I doubt I could get her hair right if I had the world’s biggest box of crayons. I couldn’t get her eyes right, either. They’re so green. They look like they would glow in the dark.
I realize I haven’t drawn anything yet. I quickly sketch the shape of her head and start doing her hair. The nose will be hard; I always mess up noses. Maybe I should do the mouth first. She has narrow lips.
For a while I forget where I am. I’m trying to be like Dad, to look at her the way he looks at things when he draws. He says he breaks objects up into forms: like he doesn’t see a head, he sees an oval.
But I just keep seeing this girl.
She has her index finger in her mouth. I can’t quite tell, but it looks like she’s peeling off the skin around her cuticle with her teeth.
I didn’t think anyone else did that.
I know I’m drawing too quickly and sloppily now, but I want to have evidence that someone else damages herself in the same small subtle way. She takes her finger out of her mouth too fast for me to capture it on paper, but when she does, I see a spot of blood. Beautiful Hair Girl has messed-up fingers like mine.
Just as I’m thinking this, she looks over at me with those glow-in-the-dark green eyes. I feel myself start to blush. Then she smiles. After a moment, I smile back.
“One of the most important parts of your experience at the Siegel Institute will be making friends with your peers, and you will have many opportunities to do so. But I must caution you strongly that initiating, uh, romantic connections is not an appropriate use of your time here. You are all mature young people and I have every confidence that you understand the issues involved.” LPBM clears his throat several times and takes a sip of water.
“Jesus, somebody must have gotten pregnant last year,” the Redhead mutters.
LPBM starts talking about all the other things we are supposedly mature enough not to do: drink, take drugs, steal, cheat, destroy university property. Then he says, “If you find yourself dealing with any difficult issues, I encourage you to bring them to your Residence Advisor. They are all trained counselors and they are here to help you.”
I take a chance and whisper, “She got pregnant and then killed herself.” I hear a snort of suppressed laughter from the Redhead.
When Large Pink Bald Man finally shuts up, people applaud in relief. The applause wakes up Drooling Boy, and the Redhead pokes me in the arm and says, “Hey! You were drawing the whole time! Can I see?”
I’m frozen. It’s like she asked me to take my clothes off. But I can’t figure out how to say no, so I hand her the notebook. Almost immediately, confirming my worst fears, she starts laughing.
“You are so totally right about his voice! That’s hilarious!” she says, pointing to my cooking oil comment.
I’m so relieved that I can’t think of anything to say, so I just smile. “These are great!” she continues. Then she addresses Formerly Drooling Boy. “Hey, you!”
He has already gotten up to leave the auditorium. He’s wiping off his mouth, looking embarrassed. She beckons. “Come over here, and get the girl next to you, too!”
The Redhead says, “Oh, I’m totally sorry, I didn’t even ask if it was okay—but you guys, look, she’s an artist! She drew all three of us during that heinous speech! Isn’t it cool?” She passes my notebook to Formerly Drooling Boy.
“Was I that bad?” he asks. I shrug. He passes the notebook to Beautiful Hair Girl, and I feel suddenly even more tense. She studies it intently for a minute or two. “Those are excellent. My name is Battle.” She restores my notebook to me, and I clutch it to my chest like a stuffed animal.
“I’m Nicola, but most people call me Nic,” I say.
Battle looks at me with a strange expression, as though what I’ve just said is far more shocking than I think it is. I know I have a bizarre name, but hers is worse.
The Redhead says, “I’m Katrina—and please tell me you don’t hate me because I got all excited about your art! I’m always doing things like that, all the time. Who are you?” She turns to Formerly Drooling Boy.
“Uh, Isaac.”
We all smile at each other, not knowing what comes next.
“Battle,” Katrina says. “I’ve never heard that name before. Were your parents anti-hippies who named you to protest all the babies called Love and Peace and Sunshine?”
“No,” Battle says. “Battle Hall is the building where my parents met. I’m named after a building; it’s too weird.” She grimaces.
“I’m named after a scientist,” I say, surprising myself. “Scientists are almost as weird as buildings.” Battle grins.
“What scientist?” asks Isaac.
“Nikola Tesla. I don’t really understand anything that he did, but my parents love him.”
“Oh, Tesla, right! Are they scientists?” asks Katrina.
“Mom is. Dad isn’t,” I say.
“We’re the only ones left,” Battle says, looking around. “Let’s vacate.”
When we get outside, Katrina says, “Hold on a second, guys,” and digs in the huge black bag she’s carrying. After a minute or two, she triumphantly holds up a pack of American Spirits. “Now I just need to find the lighter. . . .” She says this with a cigarette already in her mouth.
“Hey, give me one of those,” says Isaac. She does.
“I’ve led a sheltered life. You guys both smoke?” I ask.
BOOK: Empress of the World
13.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Wrong Woman by Kimberly Truesdale
The Devil Will Come by Glenn Cooper
A Good Clean Fight by Derek Robinson
Tangled Thoughts by Cara Bertrand