Bridget was so enraptured that she didn't notice Mr. Manning had stopped speaking. Didn't glimpse him creeping up behind her. Didn't hear Ajay's frantic throat clearing.
And then the teacher's fingers plucked away her earbud. She let out a shocked bleat as he held it out of reach, the wire stretched tight.
"Hand me your phone," Mr. Manning ordered.
She slipped her phone from her pocket. In order to give it to him, she had to pop the earbud wire from the jack. When she did, the narrator's plummy tones suddenly filled the classroom.
His dagger was poised to plunge into the sleeping girl, when to his surprise, he saw a knife glinting in her left hand. The blade was as thin as she was. Then the point was under his chin, pressing his head up.
"Drop it," Margarit said calmly. When he did not comply, she twisted her own blade. The babe whimpered as a trickle of blood, looking more black than red, dripped onto its skin. She whispered, "Sleep, Jancy."
Mr. Manning stabbed a button on her phone, and it mercifully fell silent. "Was that King of Swords?" he asked, incredulous. It was clear he'd expected to hear a popular song, not a book published before Bridget was born.
Its age didn't stop anyone from enjoying it now. Haldon lived in a Portland suburb, but people all over the world had read King of Swords, its sequels, or the graphic novel adaption, or at least seen the spin-off TV show.
Bridget nodded. Her cheeks were on fire. She cursed her redhead's complexion for betraying her. She'd been caught on her phone before, but at least then no one had known exactly what she was listening to. Were people now going to lump her in with Derrick, known school-wide as the weird loner who spent his weekends live-action role-playing—LARPing—in a game inspired by Swords and Shadows? Because while it was mostly fine to be a fan, there was an unspoken line, and once you were perceived to have crossed it, you became a socially inept, geeky pariah.
Behind her, Walker was saying something about "queen of kooks," but Bridget ignored him.
She sat in miserable silence until class ended and Mr. Manning handed her phone back. As she gathered her things, Ajay leaned over.
"All that trouble just for a book?" He raised one eyebrow, but his dark eyes were friendly. Whenever Mr. Manning or Walker was being unbelievably annoying, they would trade glances and the occasional whisper.
"It's not just a book." She lowered her voice as Derrick walked by. She was relieved that he wasn't seeking her out. "It's King of Swords by R. M. Haldon."
"Those books always look so thick." With his fingers, Ajay measured a space about four inches high. "And I'm not a big reader."
"You haven't even seen the TV show?"
"You have no idea what you're missing."
"Want to fill me in over lunch?"
For a moment, Bridget forgot about the assassin, Margarit, and Jancy. She forgot to think at all. There was only Ajay, standing close enough she was aware of the warmth emanating from his skin and the faint smell of ginger on his clothes. Ajay, with his thick black brows and friendly dark eyes. Ajay, who had been whispering little asides to her all fall. Ajay, who was now shifting from foot to foot, waiting for her answer.
If she were a character, what would she do? Simper? Flirt? Turn down Ajay and leave him disconsolate? More than nearly anyone in the world, Bridget could imagine how she might handle this situation if it were fictional. But it wasn't. And she wasn't a queen or a peasant girl or a courtesan.
She was just Bridget. And all she could think of to say was a faint, "Sure."