10. UNSOLICITED HEROISM
“You did very well. You should be proud,” Lucianne said as they headed to the next point of their itinerary.
“Considering you hadn’t even played for real before, you didn’t suck so much,” Frank agreed as he walked behind them, and Lucianne slapped him on the arm.
“Don’t be rude! They did well and if they’d had more time, they would have turned the score, I’m sure,” Lucianne stated. “In fact, you’ve convinced me to join the team as well.”
“Are you serious?! You can’t imagine how happy I am to hear that!” Lilith said, squeezing her hands with excitement. “If you join the club after the game, at least it’s proof that we met our goal! It’s the best news I’ve heard all day!”
“It’s not a big deal!” she replied, giggling at her enthusiasm, realizing then that Frank was looking at her with a scowl.
“…I wonder where that sudden interest on basketball comes from.”
“Seriously, snap out of it,” she said, rolling her eyes and continuing her way.
“Are you okay, Marianne?” Angie asked since she seemed disconnected. “You don’t seem very happy with the result.”
“It’s not that, it’s just…” she tried to think of some excuse but couldn’t shake the image of the ball changing course right out of the ring and then getting inside the hoop. “…Didn’t you see anything wrong with that last basket?”
The guys exchanged glances as if they knew more than they were willing to admit, and finally, Lucianne patted her on the back.
“Don’t worry. Nobody will make inquiries for a basket that didn’t even make you win,” her cousin said to reassure her.
“Besides, it was only an exhibition game, it doesn’t count towards the tournaments,” Mitchell added, trying to keep his distance from Belgina as promised.
“I owe you one!” Lilith finished with a tight hug. Marianne looked confused, but soon realized they probably thought she had something to do with it.
“Wait… do you think I…?”
“No one thinks anything; nobody said a thing. You gave your best effort and at least you have the experience now,” Lucianne said to settle the matter.
Marianne fell behind with a disgruntled face and pulled Samael aside as he passed her.
“…Did you see what happened on the court?” she asked. “…Did everyone see it?”
“You don’t need to worry. No one else noticed it. At most, they will consider it an optical illusion.”
“No! Does everyone really think I…?”
“Are you going to tell me you didn’t use your power during the game?” Samael asked, lifting an eyebrow to let her know that she couldn’t fool him.
“Well… okay, yes,” she admitted, embarrassed. “…But I’m not proud of it.”
“I didn’t expect you to be.”
“I did it unthinkingly; when I realized it, I had already deflected the ball from the hoop and manipulated it to make it stop,” she justified, still knowing there was no excuse for her. “…However, that last basket wasn’t me. I would have noticed like the other times.”
“Who could have done it then?”
“I don’t know. I thought I was the only one with the power to…” she recalled then what Demian had done to leave Lester out of the display. He admitted to ‘have casted a shadow’ to act as an intermediary, but she didn’t remember seeing any shadow near Lester or the basket for that matter. Perhaps it was a figurative shadow, an invisible manifestation of his power made solid and acting at his will. In any case, there was no reason for him to do it, but now that the idea had gotten into her head, she needed a confirmation from him.
“Do you remember any details?” Samael asked, noticing her thoughtful expression.
“I think… I’ll go back to the auditorium.”
“I’m going with you,” Samael decided, willing to follow her, but she stopped him.
“No, you go to Angie’s exhibition and if anyone asks for me, say I forgot something, and I’ll catch up with you. It won’t take me long,” she said, walking backwards to make sure he wouldn’t follow her.
“…Okay,” Samael begrudgingly accepted, watching her walking away.
Marianne returned to the auditorium and waited a few seconds to relax before opening the door. Demian was with the team, planning Friday’s exhibition with their coach, and listening at his words in complete silence, even the fluttering of a fly could be heard. Thus, the squeak from the huge door opening drew all eyes on her as she stepped inside. She felt uncomfortable but pretended like she was looking for something on the benches, so the coach resumed his speech, and everyone focused on him again, although Demian seemed still aware of what she was doing, looking askance at her at times.
She then approached the registration table to buy some time, looking at the list of the girls’ team. There were three names written, which made a total of four additions with Lucianne. Not bad at all, she thought. At least they could now have substitutes now. Her cellphone suddenly rang, and she quickly pulled it out of her pocket before attracting any more attention. It was a text from her father.
“I’ll pick you up after school. Will take you guys to lunch.”
Marianne frowned with a slight tick. That should be the inevitable post-divorce lunch they would have to face, and the thought of it caused her a bitter taste in her mouth all the way down to her stomach until it became acid. The game and everything else took the back seat again and her mind was full of thoughts about the ‘D’ word. Her mother looked collected and dignified that morning, as if she had imagined her sobbing last night, but she was sure it was just a mask, just like every time she wanted to hide her emotions.
“Not bad for the first day,” Demian said, appearing at her side and looking at the list as well. She jolted back from her thoughts and closed the phone, keeping it back to her pocket. “There’s still the rest of the week, so more girls could join.”
“Yeah, well… I’d say we’re lucky that there’s even someone who wants to join after today’s defeat.”
“Don’t be so hard on you. The first game is always the most difficult. I’m sure you will do better next time.”
“Everybody has been saying that to us,” Marianne replied with a snort, tired of hearing the same thing over and over. “Honestly, I’m a little sick of it; I can’t be proud of a defeat that wasn’t even honest.” Demian didn’t answer, but his expression proved that he knew what she meant. “…I guess you noticed what I did during the game.”
“Are you sure you want to talk about it right now?” Demian asked, discreetly tilting his head at the benches where the coach was still gathering his things.
Marianne said nothing and pretended to keep looking at the list while Demian leaned back on the table and waved goodbye to the coach when he was finally leaving.
“Good job. You’ll do better the next time,” the coach said, gesturing at Marianne and she just nodded with a smile. Until the door was closed, she turned around and talked again.
“…See? It’s like they try to make me confess. And it wasn’t even a trick that made us win, that’s the most pathetic thing of all.”
“At least it wasn’t an official game. It didn’t even have the normal length. It doesn’t count.”
“…That’s exactly what I kept repeating myself after preventing that basket. Perhaps I would take it better if I had been responsible for that last score… but I wasn’t,” she said, attentive to Demian’s reaction. He kept leaning on the table without saying anything for a while until he suddenly smiled, shaking his head, and finally looking at her.
“…So, this is how it’s going to be now, right? Every time something unexplained happens, you’ll come by to find out if I did it.”
Marianne bit her lip, aware of how that looked to him, but she didn’t want to make up any excuses as usual.
“…I don’t want to doubt you.”
“And I don’t want you to, so I’ll say this before you even dare to ask the question: I was responsible for that last score.”
Marianne looked straight at him, trying to find out if he semed remorseful or at least ashamed, but neither the one nor the other, so she scowled.
“…Why did you do it?”
“You lost control for a second and I didn’t think you’d regain it. I just wanted to help a little. One score doesn’t seem much, but it boosts the confidence.”
“But it wasn’t our score” she claimed and Demian gave her a confused glance.
“I thought it wouldn’t matter anyway if you had already used your power.”
“Well… I was wrong! I was desperate, I didn’t even plan it! It was as if my power acted on its own!”
“That same thing happens to me. Only when I realize what I’m doing, sometimes I just let it happen.”
“…That’s what happened to Lester?”
Demian thought about it for a moment and ended up shrugging.
“Like I said, I couldn’t shake the idea of my mind. When I realized I was already grabbing his foot in my mind. Finally, I just decided to continue and pushed him. It was a bad decision; I know that now. But for a split second I didn’t think of the consequences if something went wrong.”
“Well, then you must understand that I also made a bad call during the game. I may have not hurt anyone, but I don’t want it to become a constant in my life, using my power to benefit myself or the others when it’s not really necessary, as well as receiving any kind of help the same way. Please, don’t ever do that again.”
Demian stared at her for several seconds, letting her words sink in, and then nodded while averting his gaze.
“I promise not to do it again then.”
Marianne bit her lip, feeling that perhaps she sounded too bossy, and looked around the floor, thinking of ways to mend it.
“…It’s not an order. I just think… it would be better for us. To avoid any temptation to use our powers for our own benefit,” she expressed, trying to soft her tone, and he glanced at her. A smile suddenly outlined one side of his mouth.
“…In that case you should know that next week the preliminary rounds for the Interstates begin… and the coach has already scheduled your next game.”
“What?!” Marianne said wide-eyed.
“He was just telling us before you came. He will be focused on you on the following practices, and he wants us to help, too. So, you’ll have to work twice as hard if you want to improve your game… so you won’t end up using your power.”
“When was he going to tell us? We’re just recovering from one game and now he wants us to be ready for another! What does he think we are? Machines?” Marianne complained, starting to panic again and Demian laughed.
“I don’t know what you were expecting, you signed for that from the moment you joined the club,” Demian said, pushing himself away from the table to straighten up. “You better brace yourself, because it’s not only the basketball playoffs, but all the other eligible sports for the Interstates. Which also means Fencing.” She gave him an even more horrified look if possible and he laughed again as he made a motion with his head towards the door. “Don’t worry; newbies usually can decide whether or not to participate. But it’s required once they reach the second term.”
“I just hope your teammates won’t patronize me or give me any trouble,” Marianne said, following his signal and heading for the door.
“They won’t. At least I won’t let them,” he replied casually, and Marianne couldn’t help but look askance at him, as if expecting to see a different expression on his face after saying that, but he seemed the same as always, as if he had just said that just to say something. She was starting to feel disappointed for no apparent reason, so she felt grateful when her cellphone rang again before feeling uncomfortable with herself. But soon her relief was gone when she saw it was another text from her father:
“I forgot to mention that I have news for you.”
Surely the divorce was quite some news, worthy of being shared at lunch as to create anticipation around it. She noticed on the corner of her eye that Demian was also looking askance at the screen, so she closed it and put it in her pocket.
“…My father. We’ll have lunch after school.”
“Any important news?” he asked, and she just shrugged, trying to feign ignorance.
If he and her father had been talking and he knew what was happening with her family, she would rather not find out. So, to avoid any question about it, she just decided to quickly run once outside the auditorium.
“Angie’s display must have already started! I don’t want to miss it!” she said, stopping a few feet away and beckoning him to follow her. “Come on! Don’t stand there!”
She resumed her way, and he followed seconds later, aware that she was just trying to avoid talking about her father, so he would better not delve into the subject.
Members of the track team were split into groups of five, and once the first group reached the end of the line, they dispersed to make way for the next group where Angie was. Everyone was settling into their lane, and she glanced to the audience, cupping her hands like a visor to protect her eyes from the sun, going stand by stand to look up for her friends. Marianne had just sat there and waved her hand at her, wishing her good luck. Angie smiled as she continued glancing down the faces of her friends to stop on Samael, who seemed attentive to whatever Vicky was saying at the moment. One of her many stories and funny anecdotes surely.
She quickly looked forward, wiping her smile, and feeling a pang in her chest that warned her to blank her mind and focus only on the display, but it was impossible knowing that a few feet away, her childhood friend was trying to grab the attention of the boy she liked. It was ridiculous; she knew deep inside that neither of them had the least chance anyway because of his nature, but that didn’t prevent her controlling heart to cloud her mind with an irrational jealous streak even if it meant her own agony before the race even started. It was pretty much a self-inflicted torture she couldn’t escape from.
“On your mark!” yelled the coach and Angie forced herself to lean on the start line, despite the sharp stinging in her chest, placing her feet in the base and resting her body forward with her knees bent. She straightened her legs to the voice of ‘Set’ and upon hearing the starting gun, she ran as fast as her feet could carry her.
At first, she thought she could bear the pangs if she imagined it was due to the race, but when she felt short of breath, she began to slow down, and her teammates surpassed her. It didn’t look promising; she didn’t want to be the only one to collapse halfway in plain sight, let alone in the presence of her friends. It was her opportunity to show her progress and she was ruining it instead because of her stupid heart.
“Come on, Angie! You can do it!” Vicky screamed and even though she didn’t dare to turn her head, the mere fact that she was supporting her despite her unbridled jealousy made her feel a worse person, but also gave her the push to keep going, trying to block the pain.
She managed to cross the finish line just a few milliseconds after the first two guys and then stopped, hunching forward with her hands pressed against her chest, gasping violently for air as she felt her heart writhing inside. She slightly lifted her head to look at the stands and saw her friends were worried, waiting for a sign to know if she was fine, and although she wasn’t, she couldn’t let them think it had to do with the race, that maybe it would be better for her to quit the club, so she took a deep breath and forced herself to wave a hand to indicate she was all right.
They seemed relieved and walked down the stairs toward her, so she tried to make a quick series of breaths to lower her heart rate before they reached her.
“We were worried for a moment! We thought you were having some problems,” Vicky said after a big hug, pointing to her heart not to say it aloud.
“It’s just… a breathing thing,” Angie said between gasps.
“Are you really okay?” Samael asked warily; it was more difficult to fool someone who could read minds and know how others felt.
“…Yeah, I really am,” she said with a genuine smile at his concern and a sad resignation that he would have the same reaction with any of them.
“Maybe you should take your medicine. Just as precaution,” Marianne suggested, handing her the little purse she always carried around.
“…Thanks,” Angie said, taking the pouch and pulling out a bottle of water along with a strip of pills that she no longer bothered to hide in front of them.
“Hey, what are you doing over there?” Marianne asked when she saw her brother sitting in the stands, looking around as if waiting for something to appear in front of him at any moment. “Have you lost your classmates or something?”
“Relax, I told him he could be with us,” Vicky said, waving at the kid. “Everything all right in there?!” The boy shrank at her calling, almost burying his head between his shoulders and nodding as she gave a sigh. “…It’s like he’s afraid of me or something. I’ll start to seriously think there’s something wrong with me when people avoid me so often.”
“Where’s Addalynn?” Demian asked after noticing she wasn’t there with Vicky.
“I left her sitting on… uh, oh,” she said, turning back to the stands and not seeing her.
Behind the stands, Addalynn was leaning on a column while staring at the screen of her device, her fingers moving fast on the little keyboard. Several of the boys from the basketball team were leaving the field at the time and as soon as they saw her, they stopped and started nudging each other. Through whispers and nods, they finally seemed to agree and began to approach her.
“Hello, are you lost?” the leader asked and Addalynn simply closed her device with a single motion and walked away without even granting them a glance. “Hey, don’t worry, we’re harmless; we just want to know you better and be friends.”
“And then who knows, we give you the freedom to choose,” another guy remarked, feeling protected by his teammates, and as monkey see and monkey do, they began to laugh. Addalynn didn’t stop, she continued her way, turning a deaf ear until someone grabbed her arm and forced her to turn around.
“Hey, you don’t have to behave that way. We just want to talk,” the boy said again, trying not to sound threatening or intimidating.
The blue-haired girl just looked at the point where he was holding her and then gazed up at him, with an intense stare. Soon they began to feel like a heat wave invading their heads, perhaps from the sun, though it seemed unlikely under the shadow of the stands, and suddenly a hand took the boy’s wrist, making him release Addalynn.
“…Is there any problem?” Demian gave them a warning look and the guys looked at each other with cautious expressions, until they all shook their heads as if in agreement.
“…None, we were just talking,” said the guy he was holding by the wrist and Demian finally let go of him.
“Well, excuse us then, we have to go. You should better focus on the display this Friday, don’t you think?” Demian finished with a forced smile and following Addalynn who had already hit the road, walking past Vicky, who was peeking at the other end with curiosity. The boys exchanged glances again while above them, Dreyson watched everything sitting in the stands while facing the opposite side of the field, pivoting from the boys to the other three already leaving.
The restaurant Noah chose was inside the main town mall, so it was quite busy. Marianne interpreted his choice as an insurance against scenes and tantrums but doubted that would stop Loui. Impulsiveness courtesy of their mother’s genes.
“I hope you like it. Maybe it’s not as elegant as the restaurant at the hotel, but I wanted to mix it up a little,” Noah said as they looked at the menu. “I thought you would like to go to the movies or something after lunch.”
Marianne glanced at her brother, who was staring at the kids’ menu with a dejected expression and then at Samael, who didn’t seem to be actually reading it, more like using it as a shield.
“…You said you had some news to tell us, what is it?” she asked abruptly, leaving aside her menu as if tired of appearances and unwilling to continue with the act.
“I was thinking of telling you once we’ve eaten something, perhaps for dessert. What about some ice cream or chocolate cake?”
“I want the regular menu. I’m tired of the kids’ menu,” Loui said, setting his on one side of the table.
“You can have mine. I already know what I’m going to order, anyway,” his father said, offering his menu.
“I want my own,” Loui demanded defiantly.
“We’re not going to ask for another when you can use this one,” Noah replied, showing off his infinite patience.
“Why wait until dessert when you can say it at once, here and now?” Marianne also insisted stubbornly, stuck in her own subject while Loui began to raise his hand to call one of the waitresses.
“Could you bring me a regular menu and take this one?”
“There’s no need, please. I want the daily special and lemonade,” Noah interjected, leaving his menu to Loui.
“I want my own menu!”
“And I want to know the news.”
The siblings took turns as if they had agreed to drive Noah mad, and even though he seemed about to lose his patience, he just took his hands to his temples, as if suffering a migraine, and looked at the waitress with his usual friendly smile.
“Could you write my order and return in a few minutes for the others, please? Thank you very much.”
The waitress nodded hesitantly and gave a withering look at the kids, as if judging them for making things difficult for such a virtuous man. Noah kept massaging his temples as the woman walked away and the three of them remained silent while Samael looked warily over the menu.
“…Would you excuse me for a minute?” Noah finally said, leaving his seat under their watchful gaze and heading for the restroom.
Once he disappeared from their sight, Marianne kicked Loui under the table, and he responded the same way while they glared at each other.
Samael merely turned to his menu and withdrew his legs to avoid being kicked by them.
When Noah returned, he looked as fresh as ever, he smiled and sat in front of them as if nothing had happened.
“Have you decided what you’re going to eat?”
The three exchanged glances and just nodded, losing the will to keep fighting, so the waitress came back for their orders.
“Well, about the news I wanted to tell you…” Noah started as soon as they were already eating. Loui and Marianne exchanged worried glances, assuming he would finally confirm what they hadn’t dared to mention for the last hours. Their father paused, clasping his hands on the table in a thoughtful pose and arguably even stern. But when he looked back at them, he smiled, fueling for a moment their hope that the unspeakable thing didn’t happen at the end. “…I got a job in town. I don’t need to go back on the road.”
The silence that followed was as unexpected as the news. Both Marianne and Loui stared at him not knowing how to react and Samael remained silent, feeling out of place in what should be a family reunion in which he shouldn’t to be included.
“I thought you’d be glad,” Noah spoke again after their silence.
“It’s… very good news, dad,” Loui finally said, feeling sincerely more relieved since it meant he would never leave again for so long.
“…Where?” Marianne asked with a sense of urgency. Contrary to Loui, her concern seemed to increase, like a tiny thorn pinned on her chest that she could feel at each breath.
“I’ll be doing PR for a company. If it all goes well, I may even get another place to move. I’ll find one close to home to see you every day.”
PR, of course. No other job would be best suit for his profile. But that wasn’t what she wanted —needed— to know, and before she could notice, her nails were already sunk into the tablecloth, filled with an anxiety she didn’t quite get until later, when her mind had finally caught up with the somatic reaction of her own body. The idea that there might be someone else behind his new job; someone determined to make things easier for his father driven by guilt.
“Where?” Marianne insisted with a more emphatic tone despite doing to restrain herself. Her father seemed to understand what she was thinking and after a few seconds of silence, he smiled in the only way he could.
“It’s a company for advertising and management. It’s called Dayton Corporation. It’s newly established, so you won’t find much information about it yet, but it has big plans soon and I’ll be helping them if everything goes well.”
“Advertising and management? Does that mean you’ll be linked to film and TV in some capacity?” Loui asked, more enthusiastic about the idea.
“Anything that requires advertising and events,” his father added with a wink.
“Would you excuse me?” Marianne stood up and walked towards the restrooms, however, she went past them and sneaked out of the restaurant, leaning her back against the wall. She let out a sigh that showed her relief that it wasn’t Mr. Donovan’s company after all. But still, he hadn’t mentioned anything about the divorce. Would he just avoid the subject and leave it to their mother? It wouldn’t be the first time, considering his extensive trips as a way to shun his responsibilities.
She let the noise of the mall sweep away her uneasiness to eventually go back to her table, but when she lifted her face, she saw a long figure with a large coat in the front shop. Dreyson. He was watching magazines closely in one of those stores with a wide variety of products. But perhaps what surprised her the most was the fact that he was looking right at the fashion magazines, the last thing that came to her mind he would be interested in.
Before even thinking about it, she was already striding across the place, as if unconsciously trying to delay her return to the restaurant. Dreyson had a fashion magazine in his hands and watched a male model in the cover with a haircut that could rival Mitchell in volume and spray, wearing a designer suit that also seemed out of his closet, with the difference that this one looked flawless on him.
“Are you thinking of a makeover or something?”
Dreyson turned to her without letting go of the magazine or even looking startled at her showing up all of a sudden. He seemed to have complete control over his emotions.
“I mean, you don’t have to do it for anyone as long as you feel comfortable with yourself… Well, maybe a more fitted wardrobe for your body type, but who am I to judge other’s fashion, right?” she added, feeling invasive now that she was aware of what she was doing, even though Dreyson didn’t seem to resent her comment.
“I’m just watching,” he said, returning the magazine to the sideboard, and by doing so, he suddenly stared at his sleeve, longer than the length of his arm. “…Why do you think I need a new wardrobe?”
“Well, maybe you’d feel more comfortable with something more fitted to your size. But either way, perhaps you like dressing like that, I don’t know, I’m just guessing. Anyway, it’s none of my business and I’m not very suitable to talk about it.”
Dreyson shook his arm a bit, keeping it stretched and watching the sleeve dancing and covering his fingers.
“…Maybe I do need it after all.”
He smirked as he kept watching his loose sleeve as if just noticing how big it was.
“…Well, I have to go back to my family,” she said, puzzled at his reaction. “…I’ll leave you alone so you can… do whatever you were doing.”
“You’re here with your father?” he asked, and Marianne gave him a sharp look to tread carefully around the subject.
“Don’t start with that.”
“I just asked a question.”
“All right, then I’ll just keep it to myself. Bye,” she finished with a farewell motion and heading back to the restaurant.
“We were starting to worry; we just ordered dessert,” Noah said as she returned, beckoning the waitress to come back while Samael gave her a questioning look, to which she responded with a slight shake of her head to indicate that everything was fine, but as soon as she lifted her gaze, she saw Dreyson peering curiously from the entrance.
Marianne scowled and quickly gestured him to leave.
“Is something wrong?” Noah asked, and she froze, realizing she was making faces.
“No. I was just… trying to decide what to order,” she quickly said, taking the menu and placing it vertically in front of her to cover the warning glare directed at Dreyson.
However, he ignored her attempts to shoo him away and looked at her companions despite the difficult angle, with their backs to him.
“Are you feeling all right?” Noah asked again with concern.
“You look sick. I hope you don’t throw up on the table,” Loui replied, moving his chair away from her.
“I don’t feel sick! I’m not the one that gets wasted with candy!” she retorted, turning to the waitress. “You heard me! If he ordered any cake or something extremely sweet, you’d better not bring it if you don’t want the table to be upholstered like a rainbow.”
“Hey! I can eat sweets whenever I want! Just with moderation!”
Marianne was already about to snap back to keep the distraction routine when she noticed her father turning to the entrance. She knew that if he found out someone was watching them, he’d send him an invitation to their table once recognizing the uniform. He was never wary of strangers.
“What?” Noah turned back to her, but she had stopped mid-sentence since Dreyson was no longer at the entrance; he had just disappeared. Maybe once his curiosity was satisfied, he was gone.
“…Nothing. I’m ready to order,” she finished, trying to act more relaxed and letting out a sigh that she concealed with a sip of her drink.
When they got back home, their mother appeared on the top of the stairs.
“Good to have you back; you can now help me decide what to order for dinner because I refuse to cook anything today.”
Marianne looked up and her jaw dropped after seeing her mother with the same haircut as her.
“Do you like it?” Enid asked, noticing their nonplussed expressions. “I thought it was time for a change. It’s the beginning of a new life.”
“…Those are my clothes!” Marianne pointed out accusingly as soon as she got out of her astonishment. Besides the similar haircut, she was wearing some washed-up jeans with frayed edges and a plaid jersey whose ends were tied to compensate the lack of buttons.
“Is it?” she said, as if just realizing what she was wearing. “Well, you didn’t seem so interested in using them again since you left them in one of the boxes from the storage room. I was trying to finish the inventory, and this was the first thing I found. I thought it was my teen clothes and wanted to see if I still fit in them. It’s a little tight on the hip, but what do you think? We’re almost the same size!”
Marianne just kept her eyes on her, incredulous. Now she really seemed to be having a regression. If things were going to be like that from then on, with her mother using her clothes just to prove she could or even worse, trying to regain her lost teen years, she didn’t know if she could stand it.
“…I’m going to my room, and I don’t want to talk to anyone,” was all she said before climbing the stairs to escape the nightmare.
“Oh, don’t be so ticklish! If it upsets you that much, I’ll take it off right now!” her mother replied, but she was on her way to her room already, closing the door not so strong as to make it clatter. She then dropped on her bed and stood motionless while staring at the ceiling, trying not to think. Samael appeared then in the middle of the room.
“I said I don’t want to talk to anyone,” she repeated with her eyes fixed on the roof.
“I don’t want to bother. I just need something.”
Marianne took another deep breath before turning her head towards him without changing position.
“As long as it’s not about anything that has happened today.”
“If I’ve learned anything about you it’s whenever you need someone by your side even though you say otherwise and when you don’t. And I know you need to be alone right now, so I’ll be brief. I need to sleep.”
“Well… get some sleep then,” she said, arching an eyebrow as if it were the simplest and yet strangest request from him ever.
“No, you don’t understand. I can sleep; the problem is that I’m no longer getting these little bouts of knowledge from the Superior realm. If I force myself to sleep it may happen. I need to know what’s going on lately if we want to solve it soon.”
“What do you need from me then?”
“The pills you had after the accident. That one time when I took them, I slept most of the day, but I got information I needed at that moment. I must try again.”
“The thing is that you took the last ones, and I haven’t needed them again, so…” she replied, getting up into a sitting position with a shrug.
“Is there a way to get more?”
“Well, we could go to a drugstore, but those are small doses; I had a prescription … though….” suddenly, her expression changed the way it did every time she had an idea. “…Demian takes sleeping pills since he was a child. And I’m sure they have prescription; he said the doctor gave them to him.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be comfortable asking him for anything,” Samael said unconvinced.
“I’ll send him a message,” she said, quickly pulling her cellphone and starting to type, her previous bad mood already vanished. “I guess a couple will suffice; they are strong enough and we don’t want you to get sick. I still don’t know how you did it with all the ones you took that time; luckily, they only knocked you down for a day; you cannot risk your health just to repeat the conditions of that day.” Samael just nodded while her alarm set off as soon as she received a reply. “Done! He’ll bring them to school tomorrow. Your little experiment will have to wait a day, so be patient.”
“I will. At least it was worth it,” Samael said, and she twisted her eyebrows. “You’re not angry anymore. I’ve distracted you at least for a moment.”
Marianne squinted and wrinkled her nose, trying to contain a smile while taking a pillow and throwing it at him, but he disappeared right before it hit him.
The next day, Dreyson showed up with a uniform that fit him, but even that way he was a target of their classmates’ mockery. The truth was that the new uniform accentuated his height, but maybe it was because of the weight of his backpack that he kept on hunching while walking.
When he sat down, he found a paper ball on his desk. After settling in with no hurry, he smoothed it and read:
“Ignore them, they make fun of everyone.
Good to know you’re open to advice.
Now you just need to work on your posture.”
Dreyson kept the paper and a few seconds later, another paper ball fell now on Marianne’s desk.
“What’s wrong with my posture?”
Marianne snorted, but before she could reply, Vicky began to flutter around with Kristania and a list.
“We have ten people so far!” Vicky said, trying to convince them again. “We’re ready to propose this new club. Don’t you want to join? It’ll be fun!”
“Do you know you need a teacher to support you and serve as tutor of any new club?” Belgina informed her. “Otherwise, they would never leave a club in the hands of students.”
“Oh, we have one already! Kristania looked for support with one of the teachers and she fully agreed to represent us,” Vicky said without compromising her spirits. “Miss Anouk, I think.”
“Why am I not surprised?” ¡ Marianne shook her head. Surely, she had convinced her using the magic words: Lissen Rox.
“There’s Fencing again today. Are you going?” Vicky asked after checking the schedule.
“It’s your new club, Marianne. You should go,” Angie said, patting her with a glint in her eyes that reminded her of Lilith. Marianne squinted and tried to think of the best answer to avoid humoring her.
“Only if you come with me.”
“I’d love to go, but we still have plenty of things to do if we are to progress with this,” Vicky announced, showing off the list once again. “We must meet with Miss Anouk and go talk to the school coordinator. If we finish in time, we’ll catch up with you, okay?” She then stepped closer to them and whispered something else. “…Can you take Addalynn with you? Only Kristania and I can be present at the meeting.”
“…Sure, I don’t see any problem,” Marianne replied, glancing at Addalynn who stayed away from them, staring at her device.
Vicky smiled with relief, and aproached the blue-haired girl to tell her, to which she reacted with a peevish gesture and rolling her eyes as if having no choice.
When the club hunting hour started, they went back to the gym where the boys joined them. Angie made room for Samael, showing the best of her smiles, while he looked at the row below, where Addalynn sat alone, keeping her distance from the others.
“Samuel,” Angie’s voice broke into his thoughts and forced him back to the present. “…Are you okay? Aren’t you taking a seat?”
“…Of course,” he answered, watching Addalynn on the corner of his eye and noticing she also seemed to react at the mention of his name, lifting her head straighter, if possible, as if deciding to put attention to her surroundings instead of her device.
Angie smiled as he sat down next to her and mentally played several conversations with different outcomes; of course, those outcomes only fit her ideal, and before she could even utter a word, she was already discouraged by mentally comparing her expectations with reality. The Fencing display was almost over, and she hadn’t even said a word. She felt awkward and dumb, unable to keep anyone’s attention. Maybe if she had Vicky’s gift with the gab, and all the stories she had to tell… But what was she thinking? She couldn’t keep the pity party for so long. She had to be herself… even if she wasn’t as interesting as everyone else… She had to stop. She couldn’t keep doing that to herself. He was right there, at a hand span; she only had to turn around and say anything, even if it was a trifle, at least it would lead to something. She just had to stop filling her head with pessimistic thoughts and go for it.
And so, she did. She tried to erase her expression of anticipated defeat and draw a smile before turning to him with a blank canvas for mind and let out the first thing that occurred to her, only to find his gaze fixed on the row below. He was watching Addalynn intently, the most interested she had seen him ever. Her heart began to throb again, pulling her back down to earth.
Soon, the display was over, and the boys from the team dispersed. Demian went straight to his sports bag and took a bottle of water while Marianne stood up.
“…I’m going to check how many more have already signed up to the club.”
Without waiting for an answer, Marianne came down the stands and headed for the registration table to look at the list, but really hoping Demian would discreetly approach and hand over the pills out of plain sight.
“…No way,” she suddenly muttered in disbelief after seeing Dreyson’s name on the list. “He’s lost his mind.”
“Are you reconsidering your decision to join the club?” Demian appeared beside her, one hand on the table and the other holding a bottle of water. “I hope that’s not why you’re checking the list.”
“Of course not! I stand by my choices,” she replied with a scowl, but after noticing his smile, she realized he was joking. “How hard can it be handling a foil that weights like half my sword.”
“I guess we’ll find out on Monday,” he said, settling the water on the table and taking out a small bottle, handing it to her. “…To tell you the truth, I didn’t think you’d be having trouble sleeping.”
“Thanks!” she said, taking the bottle quickly and keeping it in her hand. “It’s not for me, it’s for Samuel. Part of an experiment.”
His smile vanished while Marianne seemed unaware as she watched the instructions carefully.
“Are you sure you want to give me the whole bottle? He only needs a few.”
“I have plenty to spare at home. He can do whatever he wants with it,” he said sullenly, taking back his water and walking away from the table. “I have to go change.”
Marianne frowned confused at his sudden change of attitude and turned around just to discover Addalynn staring at her before pulling out her mobile and focusing on it. She simply huffed before returning to the stands and giving the bottle to Samael.
“Here; just be careful, okay? Remember that the last time you were unconscious more than a day. Perhaps you’d rather do your experiment during the weekend when there’s no school,” she quietly said, sitting next to him.
“I trust you’ll cover me up if that happens.”
“Well, don’t rely too much on it,” Marianne warned him. “…Seriously, you must be careful; don’t go beyond your limits or pressure yourself just to get answers that you may not receive after all.”
“I promise I will,” he said with a reassuring smile and though she tried to smile in return, her fears proved right the next day when she was standing in the attic, watching him asleep, unable to wake him up.
“…You couldn’t wait one day,” she grumbled, shaking her head reproachfully. She knew she couldn’t do a thing to wake him up. “…Just wait ‘til you wake up.”
Demian headed towards the auditorium for the basketball exhibition with a lethargic expression. Last night he was once again filled with anxiety threatening to overtake him, so he had to resort to one of the few effective methods he knew to keep control over himself.
He greeted several of his teammates with a nod, and even though they waved back, he couldn’t help feeling they seemed leery, but shook the idea out of his mind, thinking it was due to his exhaustion.
When they reached the auditorium and opened the door, they came across an image that left them stunned for several seconds, thinking they had entered the wrong place or someone was playing a prank on them, but by the coach’s face they knew it couldn’t be.
The whole place had been vandalized: the benches had been thrown into the stands, the walls and the floor were covered in graffiti, the balls were scattered everywhere and some were deflated or exploded; even long pieces of toilet paper decorated the ceiling and baskets, as if trying to emulate a simple student prank, but it seemed more than that. The place had been brutalized, even with burn marks on the court.
“Coach! What happened?”
“Vandalism. That’s what happened. This may not be the work of a student prank. Someone broke in during the night and did this.”
“There are no broken windows and the door wasn’t forced.”
“The lockers are destroyed!” someone shouted from the locker room and they all moved up there. The lockers weren’t exactly smashed, but their doors were dented, as if someone had struck them with a mallet.
Demian swept the place with his eyes until resting on the high window facing the back of the building. It was completely sealed and there was still no sign that anyone could have entered the place by force. It was as if… it had appeared from nowhere and be gone the same way. Without even thinking about what he was doing, he suddenly felt that energy coming out of his body and heading to the window, opening it. Within seconds, the shadow he had invoked returned to his body, making him shiver a little, shaking his head once he realized what he had done.
“Look! The back window is open!” one of the boys said and that was the next point they all went to.
“Well, at least we know now how they got in,” the coach said with a sigh. “I’m going to talk to the administration to postpone the display until tonight. I’m gonna need your help to leave the place as decent as possible.”
No one objected. So, while the coach was heading to the main offices, the boys started the hard work of cleaning the auditorium. Demian tried to brush out the graffiti from the floor, but deep inside he kept thinking about his weird act of opening the window. Was he trying to cover up what really happened there? And why, anyway? His hands trembled as he strongly held the brush and stopped while passing by one of the burns on the court. Sharp lines. Almost as if they had been tattooed with laser. He dropped the brush and turned his palms up. Didn’t he remember shooting with them recently? But it hadn’t been there… Although… could he be really sure? One of the main things about evil power running through his veins was that it caused temporary blindness, not physically but mentally; it clouded his senses to the point that he needed to let it all out. But he always made sure no one got hurt. Could his calculations have failed this time? No, it couldn’t be. Even though his senses were blurred, he was still conscious and could remember at least fragments of it. He always did. He discarded those thoughts and took the brush again to keep scrubbing without noticing the gazes of animosity his teammates were giving him while working, but after several minutes he began to notice it.
“…Is there a problem? You haven’t stopped looking at me since we got here.”
The boys exchanged glances as if they deciding whether or not to talk until one of them put down the bag where he had been throwing the strips of toilet paper and stood before him.
“Well, indeed, we do. It seems very opportunistic of you to try to steal the attention of the new girl when you already like someone else.”
“Wait… what? Who are you talking about?”
“The girl you talk with all the time, the one from the girls’ team,” another boy joined the complaints now that several guys from the team seemed to be on the same page.
Demian fell immediately silent and for a moment didn’t know what to say until he seemed to remember he still could talk.
“…You’re wrong. We’re just friends.”
“Whatever. We don’t care about the kind of relationship you two have, we just want you to mind your own business and let us talk to the new girl; even if she’s living under your roof because she’s your sister’s friend, it doesn’t entitle you to anything.”
The rest nodded in support while Demian couldn’t believe their nerve. They were already starting to go back to their cleaning duties, as if the matter had already been settled, but he couldn’t just leave it that way.
“Well, don’t get your hopes too high, then.” His teammates turned back to him while the door started to open.
“…And why is that?”
“Because I like her, okay?! I like Addalynn, and I don’t want you anywhere near her again!” Demian shouted, so they would leave her alone, but realizing they all kept quiet and looked behind him, he turned around confused, only to discover several students at the door, including Addalynn herself.
His sister was also there, her mouth wide open, and Kristania alongside her with her fingers virtually nailed to her palms and biting her lips. Addalynn’s gaze was inquisitive yet curious, but his eyes were immediately drawn to Marianne, who didn’t seem surprised.
Demian froze at the sudden audience. He tried to speak, but his throat was closed.
“Everyone, move away, sorry but you can’t stay. The display is postponed until tonight.” The coach began to thread his way through the kids, breaking with the silence that had prevailed for several uncomfortable seconds. “Only team members can stay. Come back tonight, please.”
“Can we help, coach?” Marianne asked while the rest of the students had to leave.
“If you’d be so kind.”
“No problem. We’ll get to it immediately,” Lilith said solicitously, grabbing Marianne’s arm and taking her away.
In minutes, the five girls were also helping to clean the place. There was a long silence during that time, and while Lilith and Marianne scrubbed the walls to erase the graffiti, Demian looked askance at them from the court, as if waiting for a single glance, but Marianne kept focused on her work, while Lilith was the one to flicker between them, and he quickly looked away.
“Who would have thought of this? Whoever did this is really sick,” Marianne snapped. Lilith watched her in silence, trying to find some sort of emotion on her face, but she just seemed determined to remove the graffiti.
“…Are you okay?” Marianne gave her a confused look, arching an eyebrow.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
Lilith was about to say something else, but stopped. She understood by her expression that she would only get a denial from her, and besides… what if they had it wrong all this time? She didn’t seem affected at all. Maybe… it was all in their heads.
“Shouldn’t you go comfort your friend ‘Kri’?” Marianne added, pointing at Kristania with her gaze. She looked like a wandering spirit back at the bottom wall, reluctantly scrubbing while simultaneously pressing the brush and gritting her teeth, throwing a silent tantrum since no one could notice. Or so she thought.
Suddenly she screeched and looked at her hand with frustration; she had broken a nail and her bad mood went off the charts, letting out some grunts mixed with whimpers.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Lilith said and Marianne smiled heedlessly at her, but as soon as she was away, her blank expression returned and kept scrubbing even harder, unaware that Demian kept glancing at her.
When their time was over, the members of the club were dismissed. Demian took his bag and pretended to check it out, but once the last guy was out of the auditorium and he was alone, he dropped it at his feet and sat on the bench. He took his hands to his head and rested his elbows on his knees. He could send a message to clear things out, he thought. He had already taken out his cell and chosen Marianne’s number, but stopped mid-writing, wondering why he would have to explain himself to her. They were just friends, after all. Might as well text everyone who were also present if that was the case. But still, a text message was too informal; he’d rather clear it up in person. So, he kept the phone back to his bag. He would still have to face his sister and especially Addalynn after this, so he sighed, suddenly eager to escape. He wanted to disappear into some remote place with no one around to unload all he needed. But he didn’t; he stayed sitting there, alone in an auditorium that still showed some traces of vandalism. Traces that fit his own power. Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t stop rubbing his wrist.
“We need to talk,” Vicky said as they met outside after school. She had her arms folded and stared grimly at him. Addalynn was next to the car with her back against the door, staring at the screen of her device, but looking up when he appeared. Her eyes seemed more curious than she usually showed.
“I think it can wait. I’m tired and I still have a game tonight. In short: I’m not in the mood,” Demian replied curtly to avoid talking about it, getting in the car immediately and waiting for both girls to do the same.
Vicky got in the passenger seat with her arms crossed, twisting her mouth to keep it shut. Demian was almost thankful and drove all the way in silence, at times looking at Addalynn through the rearview mirror. How timely of him to say such a thing. How was he supposed to approach her to find out what she knew about the obits if he had put himself at the same level of the rest of the boys?
He took refuge in his father’s studio and tried to concentrate on the weekly reports he received from the company, but the numbers were starting to scramble and getting him a headache, so he ended up resting his head on his hands with his eyes closed until hearing the sound of the door.
“Seriously, Vicky, I’m not in the mood. We can talk tomorrow if you want, but not today.” He then heard footsteps approaching the desk, so he huffed and decided to lift his face. “Vicky, I told you…”
There was no other than Addalynn in front of his desk, staring at him in a scrutinizing way. He fell silent and expectant, knowing there was nothing he could say at the moment, just wait for her to speak first.
“What is it that you like about me?” she asked, taking him completely off guard. “…And don’t say that I’m beautiful, because I know that already.”
Demian raised his eyebrows and remained silent for several seconds, wondering what to answer.
“You are… mysterious and… different… and…”
“Spare it,” Addalynn interrupted him, rolling her eyes with exasperation. “It’s very clear to me that you said it so those guys would stop bothering me, so there’s no need to continue the charade in here; nobody’s watching you. What upsets me, however, is that you thought I needed help to deal with them just because I’m a girl and you decided to do it by putting some sort of mark on me to keep them at bay. I thought you were better than that.”
Demian seemed really surprised at her abrupt claim, considering how uncommunicative she used to be, but he also understood her indignation; it was an impulsive decision on his part and at least she knew the truth.
“…I’m sorry. Maybe I should have thought about it before opening my mouth, yet I must admit that in some ways I’m… intrigued by you. I guess I can’t explain it, but I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable or to think I’m like the other boys because I don’t feel that way about you,” he said, hoping to finally get more information out of her that way, but Addalynn squinted and looked at him from head to toe.
“I can see that you don’t… At least not with me,” she said and he seemed a little unsettled. She then straightened up and combed her hair into her back. “…Well, I’ll leave you alone now. Next time, consult me before deciding I need help with something.”
She walked to the door and left without uttering another word. Demian was even more puzzled than before.
That night, the auditorium was ready for the guys’ display, and the vast majority of students came as there were asked to.
“They couldn’t delete those horrible lines,” Lilith said, watching the trail of burned lines that were left on the court. If it weren’t for them, the place would have looked the same as ever. “Whoever has defiled our sanctuary deserves to have his butt burn with a blowtorch!”
“They’ll have to replace the floor boards,” Marianne agreed while waiting for the game to start. Samael hadn’t woken from his induced sleep, so she had to tell everyone he wasn’t available yet.
“I heard about Demian,” Lucianne said before noticing Lilith beckoning her not to talk about it.
“Did you? Wow, the news spreads fast around here,” Marianne said.
“Well… you know how it is when it concerns to popular guys,” Lucianne continued, although trying to dismiss the subject as she caught Lilith’s gestures.
“It’s like they have nothing better to do than gossiping around other’s private life,” Marianne decreed, right when Vicky and Addalynn were getting closer.
“…I’ll see if the coach needs anything,” Lilith excused herself before fleeing.
“Weird, huh? What they did to the auditorium,” Vicky remarked as she sat next to them. “You’d think someone hates the basketball team.”
“There are other clubs that use the auditorium besides them. Maybe it was just a joke that got out of hand,” Angie suggested while Marianne looked sideways at Addalynn, sitting in the front row. At the door, she saw Dreyson entering and she suddenly jumped up.
“I’ll be right back,” she said, dodging seats and students until reaching him before he could even notice her. “I know this is all of a sudden, and we had already arranged to meet at Vicky’s house this weekend for our teamwork, but would it be possible to do it at yours? I promise it won’t take long, it’s just to… change a little, you know.”
Dreyson looked at her through those huge glasses like he was just absorbing what she asked, and she was ready for a refusal when he nodded to her surprise.
“Downtown park at ten. We’ll go to my house from there.”
“…All right. We’ll be there tomorrow,” she finished, surprised that he had agreed so easily. She walked back to her friends and sat more relaxed. “Change of plans. We’re doing the research in Dreyson’s house.”
“…Really? And he agreed just like that?” Vicky asked, raising an eyebrow in disbelief.
“He can cooperate sometimes,” she said with a shrug when the kickoff whistle was heard.
The boys were divided in two teams, distinguished by a colored band tied to their arms. The one lead by Demian wore blue while the other, red bands. He seemed focused on the game and kept shouting instructions left and right without letting anything distract him.
“I could do that,” Frank said, appearing behind Lucianne with folded arms. “It’s just throwing the ball to the basket. How hard can it be?”
“I assure you it’s more than that,” Lucianne snapped, thinking he just meant to provoke her. “You have to follow certain rules, coordination and especially being willing to play as a team.”
“Blah blah blah. I can do it too,” he insisted, unwilling to yield.
“…What’s gotten into you? You’re in such a bad mood lately,” she claimed, lowering the sound of her voice and leaning closer to him. He looked at her with a hint of resentment.
“I’m perfectly fine. I just wanted to let you know that I’m joining the club.”
“Frank…” Lucianne shook her head, but he just smiled defiantly, standing up and hitting Mitchell on the shoulder while passing by him as a sign to follow him.
He responded with a sigh and glanced at Belgina before going after him, even though the game wasn’t over yet. They stopped by the registration table and Frank wrote down his name, carrying out his threat before exiting the building under Lucianne’s exasperation.
The exhibition ended without any incident, and given the time, everyone started to get out of there, stopping by the registration table if they wished to join. Demian remained next to his sports bag without looking at anyone.
“Do you still have something else to do?”
Demian looked up to see his sister standing in front of him, with Addalynn behind.
“No, I just… I’ll see if the coach has more to say and we’ll go… Did everyone leave?”
“Yes, their parents were waiting outside the school. Do you mind if we wait outside then?”
Demian shook his head; he seemed disappointed that they all had gone without a word, but couldn’t do anything about it. He watched the two girls leaving the auditorium while he waited for the coach’s last words behind closed doors.
Soon the school was emptied without virtually anyone around, except perhaps in the stadium-like field, where Dreyson was lying face up in the stands, looking into the clear sky with no stars. He was about to take off his glasses when he heard footsteps.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
Dreyson slipped through the holes of the stands and looked at the field from below. Two figures walked, shrouded in darkness; the first one with steady steps and the second one somewhat hesitant.
“Of course! I’ve thought about this and it’s the best way to attract it and not just wait for it to appear again who knows when. Now shut up or you could draw attention to us!” The figure on the front suddenly stopped and turned towards the other, who stumbled a few steps before making a full stop. “You’re not cowering, are you?”
“Well… you’re not the one who’s gonna be exposed after all.”
“Don’t chicken out! Nothing should go wrong if you stick to the plan! Now stay here and do your thing while I hide. It’s show time! Put your best face!” the first one said, giving him a resonant pat in the face before heading to a little shed to the side of the field, where gardening tools and spare parts were kept. The other one sighed nervously and began to move his head to the sides, stretching his limbs while making time to convince himself. “…What the hell are you waiting for?! I’ll grow roots!”
“This requires extreme concentration! You’re not the one running the risk here, so don’t push me!” Mitchell said, losing patience and trying to stay focused. He planted his feet on the grass and closed his eyes, relaxing his muscles.
Dreyson tried to focus his sight despite the distance, his eyes getting wider as he witnessed the moment he began to change.
His skin lost pigmentation while his clothes covered with a black material that fully armored him. His face had changed, and the dark shell that covered him also ended up highlighting a pair of blue eyes that were the only touch of color of his stamp. He had become Demian in his demon form.
“…Hey! Here I am, you shoddy demon! Why don’t you come and get me?! I’m waiting for you, wasn’t that what you wanted?!” he began to shout. “You were looking for me, right?! Well, I’m right here! …I don’t think this is working.
“You stick to the plan; he’ll have to appear sooner or later!”
Mitchell continued shouting out, thinking it was useless since he didn’t have the same kind of energy as Demian, but to his surprise, suddenly a sort of disturbance began to form, like storm clouds. The shadow demon came out of it, floating above him with his cat eyes watching him, as if deciding whether or not he was its master, while Mitchell stood paralyzed at his sight.
“…We got you,” Frank murmured with a triumphant smile as Dreyson watched everything from below the stands, until he got out from the back and quietly walked away without attracting anyone’s attention.