12. SIMON SAYS
Franktick waited early at the school entrance to watch each one of the students arriving. His hands were kept in his pockets and his foot fidgeted while he stared at the door, until he finally saw who he was waiting for. He slipped quickly to take him out of the way, far from any prying eyes.
“What the f…?! Would you stop acting like a frigging ninja? One of these days someone is going to react as quickly as you and you won’t like it!” Mitchell protested, straightening his uniform jacket.
“Stop whining. Did you practice with the picture I gave you? We can’t afford to make a mistake in the middle of a meeting with the principal.”
“Uh… I’m not saying I didn’t try, but… there’s a problem,” Mitchell said, taking a breath and motioning with his hand the same way he used to do when creating a neutral layer.
“…Huh? What does this mean?” Frank asked, imitating his gesture, and Mitchell pointed out the space above them in which his cousin only saw the roof and looked back confused at him, as if he had gone mad.
“Nothing. That’s what I mean. Nothing happened, get it? My power is gone.”
The gift the smoke demon had taken. That was it then. Frank ran his hands over his face in a desperate gesture.
“…How can you be so calm? That demon left you powerless!”
“Well, there’s not much I can do about it, right? Also, if I recall, it was your brilliant plan to lure him that way. If I hadn’t listened to you, maybe I could have helped you out today, see? Karma works in mysterious ways.”
Frank gave him a look of contempt but said nothing else and just walked steadily to the school board area.
“Hey! What are you doing?”
“I’ll have to do this myself since you were so helpful.”
“You’re saying it as if I planned it that way! How was I supposed to know that was the kind of gift I had?”
Frank wasn’t listening, he had already got into the school’s main office to try and talk to the principal. He didn’t get to talk to him, but he got into a discussion with the head of the area.
“There’s got to be a way to skip that class or take it with some other teacher, or just unsubscribe me and I could take a test at the end of the semester or the year, I don’t know.”
“I’m sorry, this is not college, you can’t postpone a subject; they are a complete package.”
“But I’m doomed to fail this class anyway no matter how hard I try!” Frank insisted, trying not to explode as usual.
“Hello, Mr. Krunik! What a surprise to find you here.” Frank stiffened at the sound of the voice, and out of the corner of his eye he saw the biology teacher coming out of the principal’s office with his tweed jacket and a briefcase under his arm. “I hope you’re not having any problem; it would be a shame if you miss the class I’ve prepared for today. Will you grace us with your presence, or will I have to think of another way to use your desk?”
Frank didn’t answer, just turned around and walked out of there with his hands clasped in fists and his face contorted in tense anger.
“Hi. What were you doing in the school office?” Lucianne asked right when she was walking by the office. It wasn’t even ten seconds when the door opened again, and the biology teacher came out next.
“Miss Fillian,” he said as a greeting. “I hope you won’t be late for class today; it would be a shame for someone with your potential to waste it with bad companies. Your father wouldn’t like to hear that.”
Frank’s body tightened even more, if possible, muscles and tendons bulging under his skin and holding back because of Lucianne’s presence, who seemed at a loss, and it wasn’t until the professor walked away that she asked for an explanation.
“What was that? Could you tell me what’s happening between you and the teacher?”
“…It’s nothing,” Frank replied curtly, heading back to the door as if trying to escape, but Lucianne followed him.
“Oh, no! You’re not getting away with this again! Whether you tell me, or you’ll have to find yourself another teammate,” she warned him, blocking his path and crossing her arms to prove she was being serious. Frank sighed, tugged her arm and led her out of the school to make sure no one would listen.
“…Remember when I told you I had a problem at my previous school?” Lucianne nodded wordlessly, guessing what would follow next. “Well… he was my problem. He was also a teacher over there… or still is, I don’t know, and I don’t care. The point is that I can’t be in his class.”
“But leaving school just because you didn’t like a teacher? That’s too much! If everyone did the same, schools would be complete deserted.”
“You don’t understand. I was expelled because I knocked him down,” he confessed, avoiding her gaze, as if ashamed to admit it.
“But… why would you do that?”
“We had a difference of opinion,” he said, unwilling to delve into the matter.
“That’s not a logical reason.”
“Listen, I know it sounds terribly out of place, but trust me, I had my reasons which I won’t discuss now. All you need to know is that he also has every reason to take it against me. I don’t want to give him the chance nor the satisfaction. I can’t take his class and if there’s no way to avoid it, maybe I’ll have to quit this school too.”
“No! Wait. There must be a way to solve it. I’ll talk to him.”
“You won’t talk to him,” Frank said firmly. “I don’t want you to, okay? You’ll only get in trouble. Let me handle this.”
“But the only thing you’re doing is avoiding his class; you can’t keep going like that.”
“Let ME handle it,” he repeated and she just grimaced. It would be pointless trying to convince him otherwise, but that didn’t mean she would stay out of it. “I’ll see you next class. Don’t do anything, okay? You’ll just make things worse.”
Lucianne frowned while Frank walked away, looking sideways as if feeling observed until he was out of sight.
Professor Leiffson entered the classroom at eight o’clock, not a second before nor a second after, and commanded everyone to open their books to not waste any time, as he pulled some things out of his briefcase.
He didn’t even flinch at Frank’s empty seat; in fact, he used his desk to place a projector. The entire class was dedicated to genetic mutations and their biological origins. Lucianne watched the teacher during the class, wondering what had happened between Frank and him and what those ‘differences’ actually were. He seemed strict, but also quite attached to the school rules, she didn’t think he was likely to wrong a student over personal issues and old quarrels. She waited for everyone to leave the room as the class finished and cautiously approached him.
“…Professor, can I talk to you?”
The teacher kept putting his things in his briefcase without even looking up.
“Let me guess, Miss Fillian: you want to talk about Mr. Krunick. Maybe instead of avoiding the class and send someone else to intercede for him, he should develop some sense of responsibility.”
“No, he didn’t send me. In fact… he didn’t want me to talk to you. I just… I’m worried about his future in this school, and if he keeps missing classes, it will be very difficult to him to pass the course,” Lucianne explained, trying to sound convincing enough to appeal to his sense of honor. “I don’t really know what happened between you two in the past, but… I know he’s sorry for what he did and if you can just give him a chance…”
“Oh, Miss Fillian, don’t lie thinking you’re helping him, because if you have no idea of what happened, you should not speak about it as he requested. The thing is that he CAN come back whenever he wants since he was already sanctioned at the time, but he won’t because he’s neither sorry nor waiting for another chance. I don’t have a problem with him, he’s the one with the problem, and until he learns to let go of his grudges, no one else can help him. My advice to you is to stay away from him for your own sake, or he’ll drag you down in his own spiral of hatred and resentment that won’t get him anywhere.”
Lucianne kept silence, understanding that it was a warning to not keep delving into the past. The teacher finished cleaning his desk and took his briefcase with a quick motion, and after a curt nod, he strode out with hasty steps, as if his time were measured. Despite his warning, she now felt more curious than ever about what could have detonated the quarrel between Frank and him. She needed to find out but doubted she would get information from any of them, so she would have to look elsewhere, and assumed that her best option for now would be going to the nearest person who knew Frank: his cousin.
Outside the swimming dome, Samael watched hesitantly the door through which several students were already walking in, carrying bags and hand towels. He’d finally decided to join the swimming club, thinking he might find out more about Addalynn that way… but that was before learning that she and Vicky were also Angel Warriors. But there were still several things that intrigued him about her, and that was probably his best chance to address her with no one else around. So, he took a deep breath, and finally gathered the courage to enter the dome. While members of the club were already swimming from one edge to the other on their respective lanes, the new ones were sitting in the stands waiting for instructions, and right at the far end was Addalynn, sitting with a straight posture and gooseneck that made her look above others.
She noticed his presence, but had no apparent reaction, just glanced briefly at him and then back at the pool.
Samael hesitated, gazed at other students going to the stands, and spotted a couple of boys that seemed to have the intention of sitting next to her, so, before they would do it, he walked ahead, not even noticing the several girls that smiled at him. He stopped a few steps from Addalynn and, after analyzing his chances for a split second, he finally sat on her right and they both kept silent for quite a long time. Samael thought about what to say, and she looked stony and disinterested, hence his big surprise when she was the first to speak.
“I wondered when you were going to finally come.”
“Did you know I wanted to talk to you?”
“I can tell when someone is constantly watching me. Plus, you’re not so discreet about it, either.”
“…Oh.” That was the only thing he managed to say. She’d taken him completely off guard, and now he didn’t know how to channel the issue, but she seemed to do it for him.
“Speak then. That’s all you’re going to say?”
Samael blinked, baffled. He certainly didn’t expect her to be so straight and to the point, but he couldn’t miss the opportunity either.
“…Well, I think some things have been cleared out once we found out what you really are; like why I felt so compelled around you, I can’t explain it,” he said, trying to find the words while Addalynn looked askance at him. “But I have the feeling that you’ve been hiding something else, and I don’t mean your reluctance to talk about how you found out what you were. If we are to be part of the same team, we shouldn’t keep secrets between us. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way.”
The girl fixed her gaze on him, as if studying him with a quizzical expression on her face.
“…Do you mean there’s nothing you’re currently hiding from them?” she asked eerily, and the angel winced as if suddenly feeling under judgment.
There was the pact that he and Frank made with Demian, but that was something they should keep among them. And besides… there was also the thing about Marianne’s father. But he couldn’t talk about it with anyone, not even Marianne herself. If it went public, not only it would affect their dynamic but the way she was perceived… and he was still fighting against all the knowledge implanted in him.
There was no way Addalynn could know anything about it, unless she was able to read his thoughts, and since he was an expert on the matter, he would know if an outsider were trying to get into his mind, and that was definitely not the case.
“So… can you honestly say there’s nothing you’re hiding from them that may be of vital importance?” Addalynn repeated, emphasizing the intensity of her gaze.
“…Nothing they should know for now,” he said, trying to sound convincing, but feeling everything turning on him suddenly.
“Well, then I don’t consider necessary to share my life to anyone, just so you can have an idea of where I come from,” Addalynn replied, looking back at the front as if to end the exchange. But Samael wouldn’t give up just yet; he still had a last resource, even though he had promised not to use it again nor didn’t expect to resort to it, but even if he didn’t want to, there was no other option, either. He narrowed his eyes and tried to enter her mind, through layers of hazy thoughts into the center of her consciousness.
“If he won’t talk about it, then I don’t have to do it either. I’m not a messenger.” She sounded authoritative and oddly whining, as if she were chiding herself. He tried to go a little further in her remote memory, but it wasn’t even a second when a sudden sharp sound like an alarm filled his ears, drilling them. “Intruder.” “Get out of my mind.” “NOW.”
The screech was so intense, he had to force himself out until he was back outside, dazed with buzzing ears. Addalynn gave him a hard, sullen look as he put his hands to his ears, figuring that would help.
“That wasn’t very honest of you.”
“Don’t ever do that again,” she ordered firmly, yet more restrained than she sounded in her thoughts.
“They were looking for the gifts to find the heir to the Legion of Darkness… and I guess by now you must know who that is.” Addalynn turned back to him as if not expecting him to continue talking after what just happened, but he didn’t stop, he’d seen the swimming coach instructing a group of kids in the pool and knew he didn’t have much time left. “…But things didn’t go as they expected, and I guess now they’re exploring other possibilities; however, Vicky mentioned the demons you faced weren’t looking for the gifts and perhaps that’s relevant to what is currently happening in town, so the question is… what they were looking for?”
“What makes you think I know?”
“You seem to know more things than you’re willing to admit.”
“Or maybe it’s just the way I look that makes you think that.”
“I don’t understand the connection,” Samael replied, frowning in a confused gesture and surprisingly, Addalynn laughed briefly.
“You’re definitely something special, aren’t you?”
Samael deepened his scowl, wondering if she had already realized what he was, but it was no longer a secret to the others, and he had no intention of hiding it from them either. So, to avoid future mix-ups, he just decided to leave his cards on the table.
“I’m an angel.”
Addalynn gave him a quick expressionless and scrutinizing look. Whether it could mean that she already knew it or that she was surprised, all she said was “Oh, really?” to then be interrupted by the swimming coach, finally welcoming the club and, with the help of other team members, giving them each a small, sealed bag with the school shield and their names in tags. Samael watched everyone entering and leaving the locker room with nothing more than a generic swimsuit and towels, jumping then to one of the ends of the pool to warm up as the coach indicated. Even Addalynn went out with a bathing suit without looking embarrassed or self-conscious, despite all the attention drawn to her.
“What are you waiting for? Everyone has changed now, you’re the only one left,” the coach said, pointing at the boys’ locker room right on the opposite side.
“Uh… where do I get…?”
“Check the bag they gave you; you’ll find everything inside,” Addalynn interjected, walking past him while all the boys turned to her. She stopped at the edge of the pool and jumped without further ado, so gracefully that even the most experienced girls from the diving team felt impelled to watch in awe.
“Well, you heard it. Go ahead, time’s ticking,” the coach rushed him with two claps and pointing back at the locker room.
Samael pressed the bag against his chest and hastened toward the locker room, staying still and looking around for several seconds once inside, not knowing where to go next. There were rows of lockers, each with a plaque number embossed on it and they were all padlocked. At the bottom, there were showers separated by small cubicles where barely one person could fit.
Overwhelmed by the lack of information, he just sat and opened the bag he still held protectively in his arms. Inside it there was a towel, flip-flops, goggles, a plastic cap and a suit exactly like the rest of the guys. He began to undress, leaving his neatly folded clothes on the bench and trying to guess which side of the swimming suit was the front and which one the back, and whether or not he should put on the goggles and the cap. When he finished, he bent over to pick up his clothes, when he suddenly felt a chill down his spine, leaving him frozen for a moment.
The feeling was vaguely familiar; he’d experienced it a couple of times in his dream, right in front of that figure, but he was now fully awake and no one else was with him… or so he thought. The temperature had drastically dropped, and he had the certainty that he wasn’t as lonely as he thought.
As soon as he got out of his reverie, he stood up and surveyed the place, trying not to overlook any detail that could reveal a presence, but everything was exactly as it was before. Everything except the increasingly intense feeling that he was not alone.
Silence. The atmosphere became heavier, as if the walls were closing in on him, his skin was crawling. He let out a breath that came out as cold as mist.
“…Show yourself, whoever you are.”
No response. Samael was starting to consider his options to compel whatever that was prowling around to show itself, but as soon as he stood with every intention to scan the place with his mind, the temperature rose again, and he suddenly felt as if a pressure had left his body. The inexplicable feeling of being watched disappeared as quickly as it had shown up, leaving him disturbed.
Superior realm beings. Were they watching him closely after bending some of their rules or after his latest failures? If so, then he should start considering the possibility of being released from his duty, which in his case could mean being erased from existence, and what worried him the most, leaving her protegée in the hands of someone else who may not pass on the fact that she probably had demon blood in her veins.
Even though middle school students also attended to the club exhibitions, they weren’t allowed to join until eigth grade, but they still had workshops to keep them busy and prepare them for the type of club they would eventually aim to. They had workshops for physical education, arts and crafts, and science. They all spent one hour a day, usually towards the end of classes, and while they were heading to their next workshop at the Events Hall, Loui managed to lose sight of his group, taking advantage of his short height.
He slipped in a row of ferns and waited for the entire group to disappear from his sight, especially watching the three bullies with their heads stuck together like they were some kind of Cerberus with six feet and arms. And three heads that should be dead.
Loui couldn’t stop thinking about having seen them attacked by the mysterious hooded figure with amber eyes. They couldn’t have survived; he saw them lying there, unconscious on the floor, while the guy stood on top of them, doing who knows what, but given the wicked grin he glimpsed, he knew his intentions responded to some obscure reason. But then they reappeared the next day as if nothing happened. Just as abusive as ever, the same taunting gestures and waiting for a chance to attack on their prey (meaning him).
Since then, Loui had used all of his cunning to avoid them at all costs. He had the feeling that if they were to catch him alone or lay a hand on him, they wouldn’t just torment him and poke fun at his expense, he was sure they would do something far worse. He had read too many books and comics and watched too many horror movies to convince himself that he had witnessed something he shouldn’t, and now his own life was in danger. And yet, he didn’t dare to say anything to his sister and friends, aware of his own reproachable action that day. He had managed to escape, he could have gotten help for them, even with ‘cousin Samsa’ in front of him, and yet he decided to say nothing. He’d practically abandoned them to their fate, to certain death —they didn’t die, though, but at the time he had no way of knowing that. He had allowed his anger to cloud his judgment and chose to do nothing. Now he had to deal with the consequences. If any of them were to ever find out the way he acted —cowardly, vengeful, not heroic at all—, they wouldn’t trust him, and his plans to become a superhero like them and be accepted into their team would collapse. So, all he could do for now was to keep avoiding them and pray not to bump into them.
The kid jumped at the voice and stayed still between the ferns where he was hidden. He reluctantly turned his face very slowly, almost afraid of what he would find behind him, and his stomach sank as he saw Vicky behind him, as smiling as ever.
“Did you skip classes? Or are you planning some mischievous deed?”
“Maybe he’s only playing hide and seek with some other children,” Kristania remarked a few feet behind her with an incisive smile, enjoying the small moments when she could let her malicious comments out disguised as innocent jokes. At any other time, Loui would have responded offended at the remark, but Vicky’s presence made him self-conscious.
“I think he may be a little too old for those kinds of games, right?” she replied with a sympathetic smile, as if inviting him to smile with her, but he only managed to open his mouth with a strangled sound, reducing him into a state of frustration and self-pity.
“Why don’t you just leave the kid alone and just end with this at once?” Addalynn said far behind them, with folded arms and a reluctant pose. “After all, the club was your idea; you don’t want to be late for the first meeting.”
“You’re right. We should hurry,” Vicky said, straightening up and giving the kid a pat on the head. “See you later, kiddo. Stay out of trouble, okay?”
Loui barely nodded as if his head hinges were rusty as she left, waving goodbye. He took a deep exhalation once they were gone. Then put his hand on his head and held it at that point in front of him, as if comparing heights, frustrated to be seen just as a little kid. Sometimes he wondered if he had some sort of glandular problem.
“There you are, cupcake.”
Loui stiffened again, and this time for different reasons. A few feet away, his three tormentors were watching him with ravish smiles, like hyenas enjoying the previous moment of their hunt. He had no time to berate himself for being caught, all he had going on for him was his speed, so he quickly bolted out of there, managing to take the lead for a few seconds before the three thugs reacted and began the chase. He made erratic movements to try and mislead them, heading for one of the buildings to then tread through the bushes and out on the other side, all nonstop until getting to the back of the campus, where he hid behind some rock formations that served as a natural fence for a group of trees. There he was, his heart pounding and his breathing so pronounced that he feared he may develop some kind of asthma, but as the minutes passed and nothing happened, he began to feel safe again and relaxed. Apparently, he had made it; he’d managed to outwit them. He could still be the hero who learned from his mistakes after all, or perhaps even amend them, if given the chance.
Encouraged by the placid sense of security of having eluded his pursuers, he decided it was time to come out of his hideout, but still squatted protected by those rocks, and began to slowly lift his head to look over, meeting with three pair of insidious eyes.
Within seconds they had already grabbed him and held him against the thickest tree they could find; the three were laughing as Loui tried to think of something quickly to escape from them. He didn’t put up any fight, he knew it was useless at this point; they would only enjoy seeing him squirm without a chance.
“Did you really think you would avoid us forever, cupcake?” said the kid with the brush-like head, strolling in front of him like the leader —which clearly, he was—, while the other two were holding each of his arms.
“Stop calling me that!” Loui yelled, even aware that it wouldn’t work, yet the three boys were silent for a few seconds, exchanged confused looks and then smiled again.
“What do you want us to call you then, huh? Muffin boy? Caketeer? How do you call those sissies who watch girl shows like you? Fruitcakes?”
“I think they call them brownies,” said the fat boy while the other checked his pockets.
“Then we’ll call you brownie, is that okay?”
“He’s just got a phone and a stupid girly keychain,” the boy with the crooked teeth said, pulling Loui’s cell with a keychain in the shape of a character from the Powerpie girls, so the three boys laughed at the confirmation of everything they had said about him.
“Let’s check the phone; might have something interesting in his files.”
The brush head kid snatched the device, ready to check its contents, and Loui could only think of the video he had taken from afar and no one else was supposed to see. If they found it, it would be another failure in his campaign to become a superhero.
“Ohhh, what do we have here? The little brownie elf has a hidden video. I wonder what it is.”
“I wanna see!” said the fat boy, also leaning closer without letting go of Loui, who grew desperate at his inability to do anything about it.
“Enough… Stop already!” Loui shouted, unable to take it anymore, and the three boys stopped short and looked down at him. “…Give it back! Give me back my phone!” He obviously didn’t expect them to do as he said, he just had to express his frustration some way, but he suddenly felt something introduced into his pocket and realized with surprise that it was his cell phone, and the three boys looked confused and strangely still. After several seconds in silence, looking at each other’s faces, Loui finally decided to take a risk. “…Let go of me.”
The fat kid’s grip loosened, and he was soon able to step back from them, walking backwards while looking at them in disbelief, fearing it was some kind of trick, some twisted game to give him a false sense of security to then get back at him. The three boys, however, remained standing in the same spot, looking so entangled and confused that they could well be solving some mathematical problem in their heads.
“…Hey, where you’re going, shorty?” the brush head finally said, taking a few steps towards him with his hand outstretched and the clear intention of catching him again.
“…Stop!” Loui raised his voice and the kid stopped, confusion taking over his face again. Feeling suddenly flooded by a boost of unexplained confidence, the boy stood up with more conviction and took a breath, willing to try his luck. “…Jump.”
The three kids laughed as if he had said something funny and for a moment, he feared to have made a mistake and took a step back, until the three kids jumped out of nowhere, exchanging puzzled looks right away. Loui couldn’t believe it, it was too good to be true; if it was part of an elaborate hoax, it was too much, and surely, they would respond proportionally for what he was about to say, but still, he couldn’t hold back anymore.
“…You know what you should do? Since you’re so brave picking on someone smaller than you, all three of you should beat each other up and that would be only a fraction of what you’ve put me through,” Loui said through gritted teeth, feeling a rush of adrenaline at that improbable and amazing possibility.
The three boys looked enraged at him, raising their clenching fists towards him, who immediately jumped back to avoid their retaliation, but the surprises were apparently far from over, because they suddenly turned around and started punching each other.
Loui couldn’t believe what he was witnessing. He took a few tentative steps around them without taking his eyes off the brawl, as if by doing that, it would break some kind of spell, and once he saw a clear path on the opposite side, he turned around and ran away, thinking they would follow him as he stopped watching. But they didn’t. With a quick glance back, he made sure they were still there, engaged in that fierce free-for-all battle. He had no idea how that happened, but it was fascinating. He looked forward and kept running, fresh air filling his lungs, flooding him with an energy and spirit he thought long lost. Suddenly he no longer felt helpless, and the idea that he could be a superhero after all made him smile.
“I can’t believe they managed to convince Lilith to join. Since she keeps her distance from Vicky, I thought she would also avoid her club,” Angie said while they walked down the hall after classes.
“You know the magic words,” Marianne replied, and as if they were in sync, they both said ‘Lissen Rox’ at the same time. “Who knows, maybe the club ends up bringing them together. Then we’ll be ready to proclaim the first gothic saint of the history.”
“Lissen Rox isn’t gothic, his style is punk rock,” Belgina cleared out and the two of them looked at her, raising their eyebrows. “…I made research.”
“Doesn’t matter; the point is that if their admiration for the same person brings them together, then so be it. I still won’t listen to his music,” Marianne said, turning around the hallway where Lucianne and Frank joined them as if they were fully synchronized.
“Hi, guys, how was your day?” Lucianne greeted them trying to sound as casual as possible to then stick a little closer to them and add something else in a lower voice so Frank wouldn’t listen. “…Do you know if Mitchell has already got out?”
“Why are you suddenly asking about him? And why are we whispering?” Marianne asked.
“It’s… private,” she said, glancing at Frank to verify that he wasn’t eavesdropping, but he was already brooding on his own.
“…Okay, if you say so,” Marianne said, lifting her eyebrows as if that only raised more questions.
“Hey! What are you whispering? I’m also here, remember?” Frank said once he realized their secret chatter.
“Really? Because the last few hours you haven’t done anything else but look into space with a blank stare while your body moves on autopilot.”
“But with GPS and radio transmitter included. Don’t underestimate my ability to be in two places at once,” Frank retorted, pulling her hair playfully to which she responded by slapping his arm, even though that only urged him to keep doing it.
“Stop! You’re acting like a child!” Lucianne berated. They were already about to cross the street to the coffee shop when suddenly a police car pulled in front of them. Inside of it, Lucianne’s father looked out the window with a serious expression. “…Dad?”
“Get in the car,” he said, pointing to the passenger seat after looking briefly at Frank who was holding a lock of Lucianne’s hair between his fingers.
“…But I was going to the coffee shop with my friends. We’ll just eat something and then…”
“Get in the car,” her father repeated with a forceful tone, opening the door to let her know his order wasn’t subject to discussion. Lucianne looked at her friends and then at Frank who had already released her lock of hair and seemed cautious yet aware that he may be the cause of it.
“…Guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” Lucianne finally said, resigned to follow her father’s command for now and getting in the car.
“Do you need someone to drive you home?”
Marianne took a few seconds to grasp that her uncle was talking to her.
“Uh… no, thanks. I have things to do before.”
Commissioner Fillian just nodded and stepped on the gas, leaving right after death glaring at Frank. Lucianne directed one last look out the window with a disgruntled gesture. As the car turned the corner, Frank snorted to express his frustration.
“It was a matter of time. I bet you all she’s coming with bodyguards from now on.”
“Don’t rush to any conclusions. I’m sure Lucianne can handle it,” Marianne guessed, though he wasn’t so far from what commissioner Fillian would do for his daughter; after all, he had an entire police quad to his service and one particular officer that would gladly be a human shield in order to protect her.
Inside the coffee shop there were already several tables taken, and even though the one they used to occupy was still empty when they entered, a couple of guys walked in front of them and sat before.
“…Let’s find another table.”
“No need for that!” Frank approached the table and placed both hands on it with an intimidating expression. “You two, bug off. This table is reserved.”
The two guys looked leerily at them.
“…Unless you can prove it, I don’t see why we should cede out seats,” snapped one of them with a scowl.
“Sure. Wanna see the papers? I’ll take them out of your ass and sign them with my special pen,” replied Frank, showing his fist with a fierce look on his face. The boys backed up and Frank growled, making a fake motion forward to frighten them and they eventually got up and left. “Done. It’s all yours.”
“…I wonder why it’s so hard for you to make any friends,” Marianne said, shaking her head in disapproval as they sat.
“I’m more of the loner type. The only reason I let you hang around me is because you don’t bother me. You should feel lucky,” he said, walking to the side table and dropping along while stretching his arms over the back of the seat.
Marianne rolled her eyes and focused her attention on the menu until she saw Demian coming in and stopping at the entrance. They stared at each other for a few seconds before she pushed herself to smile and nod in a greeting, to which he responded the same way. He then walked straight to the kitchen, leaving his belongings behind the counter.
Inside the kitchen, Mankee seemed focused, moving a spoon in a pot of soup, but up close, his eyes didn’t focus on any point, his mind seemed to be elsewhere as his hand moved the ladle by inertia.
“What a hard worker,” Demian said and Mankee jumped as if his soul had returned to his body.
“…Sorry. I haven’t sleep very well lately. I’ve had nightmares.”
“And a guilty conscience, apparently. Need some help here in the kitchen or should I rather be on the front?” he said while eyeing some stacked orders.
“What a miracle that you finally have some time for your humble business and employees. It’s like you don’t even remember having a coffee shop under your responsibility and I have to take care of everything to make it work,” Mankee complained, staring at the soup, and Demian turned to him, lifting an eyebrow.
“I have some free time while my sister is in a meeting, but I can go off and not bother you if you have everything under control.”
“I’m… I’m sorry,” Mankee apologized again, stepping away from the soup. “The lack of sleep makes me a little tense.”
“…In the kitchen then?” Demian asked, deciding to overlook his rant, and showing the pending orders, but Mankee shook his head.
“Better upfront. Maybe with your presence the clients will finally let go of the fact that Samuel isn’t working here anymore.” Demian just rolled his eyes at the comparison and took a pencil and notebook before heading back to the door.
“Hey! What a miraculous sight in here!”
Mitchell greeted him from inside the counter, with his hand outstretched towards the soda dispenser as if trying to serve himself.
“You. We have to talk later. Now get out of here, I’ve told you hundreds of times that customers shouldn’t come to this side,” Demian pointed at him and pushed him out of the counter.
“That can be solved. Make me a virtual partner and we can spare this in the future.”
“Or even better, get a job and start paying your debts.”
“Ouch. That hurts, man. After everything I’ve done for you. Like, getting you the girl you like, and then just throw it all away by confessing you like somebody else. That’s not cool.”
Demian gave him an even harder shove and a warning stare.
“I don’t want you to talk about it ever again, okay? Let alone in the presence of… the others.”
“Why? You already crushed any speculation about it anyway, who cares what I say?” Mitchell snapped and Demian was about to reply when Addalynn came through the door, immediately followed by a dead silence and stillness, everyone fixing their attention on her.
She took a moment to comb her hair, as if she were in the middle of a shampoo commercial, and once she started walking, everyone returned to their occupations. She went past the girls’ table and the next one where Frank was, and finally sat on the last empty booth in the corner. All by herself.
“Now, behave like a normal customer and return to your seat. I gotta work,” finished Demian, giving Mitchell one last push out of the counter to then approach Addalynn’s table, followed by everyone else’s gazes.
“I thought you were with Vicky, did something happen?” he asked quietly, pretending to take notes.
“I got bored and decided to get out. They kept talking about the same thing all around and got sick of it.”
“Let me guess: Lissen Rox?”
“I’ll never get the fascination around him,” she expressed, shaking her head while pulling out her device and focusing on the screen. “Just bring me some tea. I won’t eat anything from this place if I can help it.”
“Oh… sure. I’ll get it,” Demian said hesitantly. He walked past Frank’s table, who was sprawled on one of the seats, giving him a dismissive look and the outline of a crooked smile.
“…Don’t worry, I won’t ask you for anything. I can be reasonable sometimes. Watching you going back and forth taking orders is enough for me,” Frank said mockingly.
Demian just clenched his jaw before moving on to the next table and trying to greet the rest casually. Fortunately, none of the girls mentioned Addalynn, but Mitchell wasn’t willing to let it go.
“Is that all you have to offer after your confession? I think you could do better than that… unless, of course, there’s really not that much of an interest after all,” said Mitchell with a shrewd expression.
“You’re the least likely to speak, so leave Demian handle it the way he wants,” Marianne scolded him, leaving the others stunned.
Mitchell opened his mouth, but instead of saying something, just scoffed incredulously and looked wide-eyed from her to Demian.
“…I have nothing! My head just imploded!” Mitchell replied, gesturing wildly and leaning back.
“Good. It was about time,” Marianne finished. Demian glanced at her and then at Angie and Belgina, who seemed almost as confused as him.
“…I’ll go get your orders,” he finally said, plucking a page from the notebook and heading to the kitchen.
Samael arrived right when he was entering the kitchen. He first looked around to see who was in the place and recognized Addalynn on the bottom table, her attention fixed on her device. Ignoring the row of girls that came right behind him as if they’d been following him, he sat at their usual table.
“You’re late. What were you doing? We thought you were coming with Mitchell.”
“I decided to join another club,” he said, taking a seat in front of Marianne.
“But Friday was the last day for registration.”
“I had to convince them,” Samael replied with a shrug, and they seemed to understand what he meant by ‘convince’.
“…I thought you’ve said you didn’t like doing that anymore,” Marianne said with a frown.
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” Samael explained. “When I said I had to convince them, I really did. I said that my intention was to sign up on Friday but got sick and didn’t come to school. They made an exception this time only.”
Marianne looked relieved to hear that, but also intrigued about the club he had joined.
“What club is it?” Angie asked, looking excited at the possibility that he might have joined the same club as her.
“Tae kwon do,” Samael said like it was no big deal and while Angie felt discouraged at his response, Marianne raised her brow in surprise.
“…Really? I wasn’t expecting that. Did you have an epiphany or something?”
“I just thought it would serve as complementary training. Useful for future battles.”
“I wonder then what kind of use you’ll make of the swimming club. Unless, of course, we face some aquatic demons.”
“Did you join the swimming team?” Angie asked, disconcerted to learn that.
“Today was my first day,” Samael nodded with a smile.
“I’ll ask you about it later,” Marianne pointed firmly at him.
“And I’m also interested to know how the ice queen looks in a swimsuit,” seconded Mitchell with a mischievous smile and she gave him a look of disgust.
“There’s not a day you stop being a pig, right?”
“I just admire the human body… especially when there’s fewer clothes involved,” Mitchell replied very lightly while Belgina preferred to turn a deaf ear to the conversation and Angie seemed too busy caught up in her own mental tangle that now saw Addalynn as the strongest rival in her hypothetical competition for someone who was totally out of reach.
Demian came back from the kitchen carrying several drinks, and although he wasn’t surprised to see Samael in the table with the others, he just left their drinks and moved to the next table, bringing Addalynn’s tea under the angel’s watchful eye. He suddenly pulled out his cell phone and typed something very quickly. Seconds later, Frank took out his cell and looked at the text message he received.
“We must speak to Demian and rethink some things.”
Frank smiled and gave Samael a deliberate look before typing his response. The angel received it and simply glanced at him from his seat and nodded.
“You still haven’t cleared things up, have you?” Addalynn said as soon as Demian left her tea on the table.
“About that…” Demian said cautiously, glancing towards the others to be sure they weren’t listening. “…I’d appreciate if you could keep the secret for a while.”
Addalynn looked up at him with a grim expression, but a moment later she just looked down again and shrugged as she took her tea.
“…Whatever. I’m not the one affected by it,” she said indifferently. “How long are you planning to keep your true self a secret from Givicha?”
Demian fell silent; he had been mulling over the issue the entire weekend, thinking of numerous ways to start the conversation, but he ended up discarding them and going back to the beginning, without a clear idea of how to approach the subject with his sister. Sooner or later, she would have to know it, but for now he wasn’t ready to talk about it and just decided to avoid her.
“Well, I think it’s time to talk about it,” Vicky said when they were back home later, suddenly sitting across their father’s desk and taking him by surprise. “I think I’ve given you enough time over the weekend to think about it, so come on, it’s time to spill it out. When were you planning to tell me?”
“…What?” He looked confused at her for several seconds. Had she somehow found out about him? And then, she finally rolled her eyes.
“About Addalynn, you silly! When were you going to tell me that you were feeling such things for her?”
On one hand he felt relieved, but it wasn’t less uncomfortable either.
“It’s not a thing I would like to talk,” he said, hoping she would just let it go.
“Oh, no! You won’t get rid of me with that excuse again! I left you alone for a couple of days, but now we must talk about it. How long have you been attracted to her that way? Because it’s normal for guys to drop at her feet, but I didn’t think you would be that predictable too.”
“You think I shouldn’t be attracted to her?”
“I’m not saying that. I just thought different about you after talking to dad…” she stopped and made a long pause, as if it were difficult for her to continue. Demian said nothing; he still resented his absence probably more than anyone else, especially after everything he had learned since his death. Vicky finally pulled herself back and tried to lift her spirits. “…Anyway, I can’t judge you by who you like. I just thought relevant to warn you that Addalynn is not… a regular girl.”
“Don’t worry. I think I can get an idea.”
“No, seriously. I think I’ve never seen her show interest in anyone. It’s like the simple human interaction is a rite of passage she’s forced to carry out when absolutely needed.”
“You make her look like a robot.”
“Sometimes I wonder if she may be partly one,” Vicky replied with such a comical expression that Demian ended up laughing.
“I’m serious, there’s nothing to worry about. I won’t do anything about it. I didn’t even plan for everyone to hear what I said, so I beg you to stop making a fuss about it, you just make it harder for me,” Demian said, hoping to leave the matter buried.
“Really? Because I came here intending to offer my help. You know, if you want some tips on how to handle her and stuff like that,” Vicky shrugged, but he shook his head.
“Thanks, but no. I think it would be totally out of place since she’s our guest.”
“Well, don’t say I didn’t try to support you,” Vicky finished with another shrug. “I would have done the same if it had been someone else.”
Vicky stood up, satisfied of their little chat, and headed to the door, but turned to him before leaving.
“I had already made my mind that you liked Marianne. Guess dad wasn’t so perceptive after all.”
That said, she closed the door, leaving Demian with a sour feeling, recalling Marianne’s words in the gym. Now he understood her sometimes elusive behavior. It made him feel uneasy and mixed-up. Was it possible for a demon to feel so confused? Because, otherwise, he might consider this as an irrefutable proof that he didn’t have what it takes to be a demon and demand emancipation… Although, things weren’t so simple; he still faced several complications to keep a human profile for long.
While musing, he heard a buzz, which meant someone was at the gate. He pressed a button on the desk and a small screen went on. Samael and Frank appeared in it, standing at the gate. Demian frowned, imagining the reason why they had come to his house. He pushed another button and the gate opened.
“I’m coming!” Vicky shouted as she stepped down the stairs to open the door. Once she saw Samael, her face immediately brightened, like watching the sun rising in the horizon.
“Hello, is Demian home?” Samael asked, showing his usual charming smile.
“Yes, he is! Come on in!” Vicky said, reminding herself to speak rather than looking dazzled, and stepping aside to let them in. “Funny, I thought you had come to talk to me or Addalynn about something concerning you know what. Didn’t think you would want to talk to my brother, is it about school?”
Both guys exchanged glances, wondering what to say without exposing Demian’s true nature and since Frank was the more likely to lie between the two of them, he was quick to show a smile.
“You see, turns out we decided to join a couple of his clubs, so we just came to him for advice.”
“Ohhh, really? What clubs?”
“Basketball and Tae kwon do,” he replied again, pointing at himself and then at Samael, though Vicky seemed only interested in the angel.
“Seriously? I’d love to see that!” she said, staring at Samael who would just smile, waiting for Demian to show up.
“In that case you’re right on time. I was just going to the training room.” Demian got out of the living room and decided to play along after hearing Frank.
“Are you going to show them some moves? Can I watch?” she asked with excitement.
“You should be doing homework. I don’t want you to interrupt us, okay? Now go up to your room,” Demian ordered, and she just snorted in frustration, going up the stairs with loud stomps to show her dissatisfaction. As she disappeared from their sight, the three boys looked at each other in silence before Demian turned around and started walking. “…Follow me. It’s this way.”
They arrived at a huge room, fully equipped like a gym, with large windows facing the rear garden. The afternoon gleam had given way to the night in a matter of minutes. Demian continued up to one of the windows and stopped, turning to them with a serious face.
“Go ahead. Talk, if that’s why you came for.”
“I think that, after the recent events, we must reconsider the terms of our deal,” Samael began while Frank settled on a treadmill.
“With ‘reconsider’ you mean to completely change our agreement or just break it?” Demian asked, narrowing his eyes.
“As for me I stick to it. I’m still up to killing you, if necessary,” Frank clarified, raising his hand to prove his word.
“I think we should at least talk about it. After what happened with Mitchell, we can no longer follow the idea that they’re going after the gifts to regain control over you,” Samael said, trying to sound certain.
“But how can we be absolutely sure? As far as I’m concerned, they could be saving all the gifts without giving a damn if they’re the ones they need or not, knowing that in the end only one attracts the rest,” Demian replied, giving a couple of pats at his own chest to indicate he possessed said gift.
“I… I have no answer to that. It’s just a hunch after speaking with Vicky and Addalynn,” admitted Samael, aware that it didn’t sound very convincing.
“What did they say?”
“Basically, that the demons they faced weren’t looking for the gifts,” Samael explained. “And I have a feeling that it has something to do with what’s been going on lately. After all, coincidence or not, but… the new attacks started since they came to town.”
“Are you implying they followed them here?”
“I’m just saying there must be a connection and it’s our job to figure it out. Although, the description given by them doesn’t match with the demon or creature we’ve met here, we can’t rule out the possibility that they’re after the same thing. A demon with pale veined skin and black eyes, and another one whose skin seemed to be carved in bone.”
Demian’s brow tightened slightly after hearing that, remembering that one time he had been summoned by his father.
“Carved in bone, you said?”
“Sounds familiar?” Samael asked and Demian turned around, staring through the window for a long time without saying anything. The memory of the goblet and the cut on his wrist. Blood, the metallic and acid aftertaste burning his throat.
“…Maybe. It’s possible that as you said, all of this is something more than just collecting the gifts and regain control over me,” Demian finally said, staring into the garden without actually looking at any specific point, pondering the possibility that they had used his blood as something else than just a simple elixir.
Disturbed at the thought, he took his hand to his itching wrist, with only the wristband preventing him from scratching it.
Outside the house, hidden by the shadows of the dusk, a figure stared through the window at the three boys gathered in there. Even though, it seemed particularly fixed on Demian through glowing amber eyes.