14. PAVLOVIAN TOURETTE
He walked steadily through several streets, carrying that bag that clinked at every step. He had decided to take matters into his superhero ‘graduation’ by himself since his elitist and killjoy sister kept excluding him and finally prove that he had what he needed to be as heroic as them. That would show them.
He reached the park where he’d already been once, only this time he wasn’t afraid nor running away from anyone; that was how confident he was. He continued all the way to the bottom, where three kids gathered in circle with their heads stuck together, checking out their candy bounty that wouldn’t surprise him at all if it was stolen from kindergartens.
At the sound of Loui’s steps and the clanking bag, one of the kids looked up and elbowed his friends at the sight of him. Soon, the three of them stood up in menacing poses, but he didn’t seem worried at all.
“What are you doing here, shorty? Have you lost your mind? You know you’re not welcome here,” the brush-like head kid said, punching his own palm to show what was in store for him. The three boys had barely one or two minor scrapes and bruises left from the induced fight, but apparently that wasn’t enough to turn them against each other as they seemed ready to jump at the slightest provocation. However, Loui wasn’t intimated. He seemed confident enough to stop right in front of them, dropping the bag he was carrying at their feet. The three boys were on guard with clenched fists.
“Stop right there,” Loui ordered with a gesture of his hand and the three remained in the same positions, bewildered at their sudden paralyzed bodies. Meanwhile, he leaned over to open the bag and pulled down some devices, throwing them towards the boys. “Take those.”
The three kids caught the artifacts in the air and looked puzzled at them. They seemed small speakers that suited the shape of the hand and had a couple of buttons on the base. They were walkie-talkies from a detective game kit Loui had received as a gift when he turned 10 and was obsessed with the ‘Shadow Detective’ comics. He took out one for himself with more buttons, and once he pressed one to test the frequency, the rest of the walkie-talkies began to emit a static sound.
“What the hell is this? Why would we want them?”
“Shut up,” Loui commanded again, convinced that they would do exactly what he told them to, and he wasn’t wrong because the three boys stood in complete silence, staring at each other with growing frustration. “You’ll do as I tell you, even if you don’t like it. You can’t do anything to reject my orders.”
The trio looked at him as if he had lost his mind, but Loui continued, taking some papers from the bag. In the pages there was an enlarged print of the shadow entity and a quite well-done drawing depicting the hooded guy with the amber eyes.
“From now on you’re my squad to search and track villains. You’ll patrol the streets at night and if you see anything unusual, anything remotely similar to these pictures, you’ll report it to me immediately via the walkie-talkies.”
“This is ridiculous!” cried the leader of the trio, taking a look at the pages.
“I didn’t say you could talk. Shut up,” Loui said, extending his index finger to indicate silence and they were impeded to speak again. “You’ll take different areas every day and report to me and only me. You won’t talk about this to anyone and not even among yourselves. At school you can call me names and say whatever you want, but you can’t touch me and out of it you’ll call me ‘Sir’. Is that clear?” The three boys looked at him like three angered bulls about to run him down, but he didn’t even flinch. “Say ‘Yes, sir’”.
“…Yes, sir,” the three kids repeated in unison and utter disbelief, feeling victims of some new pavlovian tourette syndrome or something like that.
“Very well. That’s all for now, squad. Your rounds begin tonight. Don’t forget to keep your walkie-talkies on to let me know about your progress. And remember, any weird thing, report it to me immediately. That’s my command and you shall abide.”
He put the main device in the bag and left, confident that they wouldn’t follow him or attack from behind anymore.
“What was that?” Samael stepped out as he left the park through the same route he had taken.
“Were you following me?” Loui asked after the initial jolt.
“Marianne asked me to keep you out of trouble.”
“Of course she did! So typical of her to think I’m just looking for trouble!” Loui protested with a pout and continued on his way. “I was just playing with my friends, okay?”
“Marianne says they’re not your friends; they’ve been bullying you.”
“‘Marianne says’, ‘Marianne asked me to’. Do you have to do everything she tells you? You act like his slave,” Loui snapped while Samael walked behind him.
“I can’t help it. I think you already know why,” Samael replied without being offended by his remarks. Loui stopped at the corner and turned to him with a pitiful expression.
“…I’m her brother, couldn’t you be my guardian as well?”
“Things don’t work that way. I’m linked to her since birth, so I have this predisposition to protect her and put her on top of everything. But I still care and watch over the well being of others, including you.”
Loui inflated his cheeks again and let out a frustrated huff.
“Not cool. I want my own guardian who grants me wishes,” he replied in a wayward tone as he resumed his steps to cross the street. Samael only sighed with resignation and followed him.
Sitting in cardiology, Mitchell and Lucianne waited for Frank’s mother while flipping through some magazines, though, unlike Lucianne, Mitchell’s fingers twitched restlessly as if the pages burned at the contact, while his feet stirred restlessly.
“Do you know what Frank will do if he finds out about this?”
“Let me guess: he’ll be so mad he’ll leave school, won’t talk to us anymore and will go back to his old habits?”
“I wish. Okay, he’ll be mad, there’s no doubt about it; but in your case, he’ll let it go pretty soon, while in my case, he’ll catche me in the least expected moment. Don’t be fooled by his size, he can be so elusive that he’ll find a way to break into my room and exert the worst imaginable tortures in a way that he could extend them for several days without anyone home taking notice of it.”
“For God’s sake, why would he do that? You’re family!”
“Well… I’m not too proud to admit it… but I may have been a little bit awful to him when we were little,” Mitchell said, grimacing with remorse. “You know how ruthless children can be. I was the eldest son of a wealthy family: a doctor for a father, a spoiling mother, a sister still yet to be revealed as the spawn of Satan; in short, what you could call the perfect family. So, every time he came home with his mother, I liked to show off my status like a little lord accustomed to do his will, which included denying him some of my toys or forbiding him to do certain things because ‘that was my house and not his’. As a sidenote, we hadn’t gone through puberty yet at the time and he was even shorter than me, so I found it very easy to mess with him.”
“But that’s just how children are. You’ve both grown and matured since then, I guess. He should understand.”
“I haven’t finished,” Mitchell added, taking a deep breath to keep going. “By that time, I was very unfiltered, speaking without any discretion,” Lucianne thought there was not much difference with the current Mitchell, but made no comment and let him continue, “and I was very curious, so one day I asked about Frank’s father since I only saw him with his mother, and basically got an entire lesson about the kinds of families and how some were just formed by one parent or not even that; more gobbledygook on adoptions and broken homes, parents unrelated by blood and stuff like that, I was so easily bored that I kept musing throughout the explanation and all I had caught was that Frank was fatherless and never met him. So, the next time we went to school, it was easy for me to interrupt a history lesson about the Inquisition and ask the teacher if Frank’s mother would have been executed at that time for having a bastard child.”
“Mitchell! That’s horrible!” Lucianne expressed in a condemning way.
“I know, but I didn’t stop to think if I hurt someone else’s feelings with my words. Anyway, everyone began to mock him very often after that, and he became increasingly isolated and aggressive. In theory, I should have done something to apologize and support him as family… but the truth is that there were times I even poked fun of him.”
“Right now, I’m struggling to remind myself that it happened years ago and not slapping you,” Lucianne snapped, crossing her arms.
“Hey, I was just a kid. I’ve changed and now I understand that I was wrong. I’m a better person today.”
“Did you even apologize to him at least after all these years?”
“Uh… not really. I assumed that he would get over it eventually or would stop caring as it used to happen to me. Everyone knows children are unintentional and inherently cruel!
“Not all children. I didn’t spend my school years tormenting my classmates.”
“Well, it’s different, you’re a girl… although the only argument I can come out for that is my sister, but I guess one doesn’t equal everyone.”
“…Whatever. The point is that an apology would have made the difference, and maybe Frank wouldn’t have been accumulating years of hatred and resentment against the world.”
“You mean I could be responsible for turning him into an aggresively resentful outcast? Wow, I might have a future in the creation of criminal organizations after all.”
Lucianne shook her head in disapproval right when the office door opened, giving way to Angie’s father.
“Thank you, doctor. I’ll be back in a month for the next revision.”
“Take care,” said the woman with a smile and a shake of hands. She then looked at Lucianne and Mitchell, already standing up.
“Mitchell? Why are you here?” She then gave Lucianne an intrigued look and then back at her nephew. “Is there a problem?”
“No, no, no, not at all!” Mitchell said and Lucianne nudged him discreetly under the ribs. “Well, yes, maybe a little. But nothing serious… yet.”
“What did Frank do this time?” the woman asked with a sigh of resignation and this time Lucianne was the one who spoke.
“Don’t worry, he hasn’t done anything. It’s rather an… unofficial visit. We prefer that he doesn’t find out about this.”
“Do you have some kind of relationship with my son?”
“We-We’re friends. We’re in the same class,” Lucianne replied, unsuccessfully trying not to sound nervous. The woman looked warily at her, and seconds later she opened the door to let them in.
“Well, what is it?” she asked, sitting behind her desk as Lucianne and Mitchell sat in front of her.
“Well… it’s about a new teacher we have,” Lucianne started. “For some reason, Frank feels uncomfortable in his class and… sometimes he even skips it.”
“Frank skipping classes, what a shock,” the woman snorted like she was already used to it. Lucianne bit her lip. Maybe she could have messed things up once again trying to uncover the truth.
“Actually, he’s doing very well so far… The problem is with that class. He doesn’t seem to stand the teacher and won’t tell us why.”
“Then there IS a problem.”
Lucianne sighed, wondering how to address the issue without compromising Frank with his mother.
“…Listen, I understand that he has some kind of ‘reputation’, but I can assure you he has changed… Don’t you think that going back to school is a sign? I think… that things from the past are holding him back.”
The doctor was silent for a moment, looking at her as if deciding whether she was honest or not. Finally, she gave a long sigh and leaned back on her seat.
“Who is this teacher?”
“Professor Leiffson, he’s our biology teacher, he…”
“Leiffson?” the woman repeated, stretching her face with surprise.
“Oh, you’ve heard of him.”
“I never understood the issue with him in the first place. Professor Leiffson has always been a tough man but was never unfair in his notes and didn’t let his personal judgment about anyone to influence his professional development.”
“Did you know him?”
“I took a genetics’ course with him while in college,” the woman said as if it were no big deal. “It was for a short time, but I thought he was a man of integrity, so, when I found out what Frank did… I felt terrible.”
Lucianne just found herself nodding in silence. Minutes later, they had already left the office and headed quietly towards the exit.
“Well, I told you we wouldn’t find anything revealing. Frank can be very hermetic and there are things he will take to the grave, and I suppose his gripe against that teacher is one of them.”
“That’s what you think,” Lucianne replied, looking more determined than ever on her crusade for the truth. “Now we know something else: his mother also took classes with Professor Leiffson, and I don’t know why, but I feel that it played an important role in the origin of the problem. Do you think we can make a visit to your father?”
“My father? What does he have to do with this?”
“He’s her brother, isn’t he? Maybe he can tell us more about the time she took classes with him.”
“Uhmmm. Maybe, but… he’s always very busy. I don’t know if he’ll have time for us.”
“We can try at least,” Lucianne insisted though Mitchell seemed unconvinced, so she decided to take the lead. “Where’s his office?”
Mitchell’s father had straight auburn hair like his sister, perfectly groomed without a single strand out of place, which surely revealed a more effective and restraing use of gel than his son. With his little gray eyes like Kristania’s, he looked severe in his doctor’s coat above a discreet suit, contrasting with the overwhelming mix of color that Mitchell used. If he had picked his particular sense of fashion from somebody, it was definitely not his father
“What are you doing here?” the man asked with a phlegmatic and somewhat detached attitude, the opposite of Mitchell who always seemed chilling and joking, though right at that moment he looked tense and cautious in his father’s presence.
“We just… need to ask a couple of question, that’s all.”
“Are you finally getting interested in medicine? I won’t say I’m not surprised, but nothing would please me more than you deciding to follow my steps.”
“…Yes, I can imagine,” Mitchell said with a nervous laugh and Lucianne tried to take control of the conversation.
“We’re actually here to ask some questions about professor Leiffson… Tobias Leiffson? He was uhmm… your sister’s teacher years ago?” Lucianne said hesitantly, realizing how ridiculous it sounded to ask about some teacher from long ago and not even his. The man, meanwhile, fixed his attention on her with a scowl and then looked back at his son.
“I thought I told you that you could come back on the condition to focus on school and not on your conquests.”
Mitchell faked a cough and averted his gaze to the ceiling or anywhere else not to look at his father’s eyes.
“…No! You’re wrong! I’m not a… a conquest!” Lucianne cried offended. “We’re just friends and believe me, I don’t intend to change that. He’s not my type.”
“Oh, well, thank you. Remind me of that the next time you ask for a favor,” Mitchell replied, folding his arms with indignation and she just glared at him to remind him to stick to the plan.
“We just need you to tell us anything you can remember about professor Leiffson; he’s also a doctor, you may have heard of him. He specializes in genetics and gave classes to both your sister and Frank, your nephew.”
Mitchell’s father was thoughtful for a minute, stroking his chin with a contemplative expression. Finally, he leaned back and started to clean his glasses with a tissue.
“I don’t have much to say about him, we never met. All I got to know was that my sister took a few classes with him like eighteen years ago and then he had this issue with Frank last year. It was a huge embarrassment for her, especially with someone she respected and admired so much. She didn’t even dare to go to a meeting with the school’s principal to discuss the matter and my wife ended up going instead,” the man explained as he cleaned his glasses with extreme calm, with a tone so devoid of intention he almost sounded robotic. So unlike Mitchell.
“And… did you ever know why Frank had problems with him in the first place?” Lucianne asked, testing the waters to see if she could get more information.
“All I know is the same he told everyone. His notes were unfair,” the man said, putting on his glasses and placing his hands on the desk with his fingers interlaced. “Which in my opinion says a lot about how much he cared about school at the time. A B+ isn’t a bad note, but obviously wasn’t enough for him. I wish my son would try at least to get a note like that instead of settling for D’s.”
“Oops, look at the time! And we haven’t had lunch yet! Time to go!” Mitchell said, getting up while pretending to look at a nonexistent watch on his wrist.
“You don’t have to take that attitude with me, young man. If you don’t study, as you should, you won’t be able to continue on our family legacy.”
“Thank you for giving us a bit of your time, pa! See you tonight if there isn’t a cholera outbreak in a restaurant to keep you busy!”
Lucianne had no choice but to follow him and made a slight nod of gratitude towards the man, who just shook his head in disapproval of his son running away at the mere mention of his responsibilities.
“I warned you it would be pointless. Now we’re just like at the beginning. Can we please go now? I think my cologne is starting to reek of disinfectant,” Mitchell asked, anxious to get out of there or at least be far away from his father.
“Not that pointless,” Lucianne said thoughtfully, slowing down her steps even though he tried to move forward. “According to the official story, the problem with professor Leiffson was an ‘unfair’ note. Do you really think Frank would fuss over a B+?”
“…Not especially,” admitted Mitchell. “His notes are always good, but he doesn’t even try hard to obtain them. If he has a lower note than the usual, I don’t think he would worry that much.”
“Exactly, that means he lied to everyone about his reasons and professor Leiffson didn’t bother to deny it either.”
“Which means,” Mitchell lifted his index finger in a detectivesque manner, “that the teacher probably doesn’t want the real reason to come to light.”
“Maybe it wasn’t even Frank who started the conflict after all,” Lucianne added, hopeful that she could solve the mystery.
“You mean… he actually reacted as a defense mechanism?” Mitchell asked, widening his eyes with a not so nice picture in his head.
“Why are you making that face? What are you thinking?”
“Tell me, have this teacher shown an unusual interest for any student in your class? Let’s say… some hot guy he asks probably too many questions or just touch his shoulder or an arm in a not so appropriate way whether his answer is right or wrong, and he’s occasionally asked to stay after school to ‘discuss’ his notes?”
“My god, Mitchell! What has gotten into your head now?”
“Well, it wouldn’t be so crazy! Think about it, maybe the problem was that the teacher paid him more attention than he should,” he theorized, raising his eyebrows to give a different connotation to his words. Lucianne shivered at the thought. She certainly considered Frank’s reaction a little too radical over a simple note, but that? The teacher didn’t even seem especially attentive to anyone. He was cold, distant and totally focused on his class. But that didn’t mean he had always been like that.
“…It’s enough for today. Let’s get out of here,” Lucianne finished, anxious to leave and at the thought Mitchell had planted in her head.
“At last!” he said, throwing his arms to the sky in relief and opening the door.
Several feet away, Frank stopped in front of the elevator, looking confused as they headed to the exit without noticing his presence.
From the moment she arrived at her classroom, Marianne looked warily at Dreyson, sitting beside her as he’d been doing since Monday, thinking of Samael’s warning and wondering if there was any way to check the nature of the alleged bruises on his back. She needed a chance to be alone with her friends to also warn them about him. But as the bell rang at the end of the class, Kristania appeared on one side of their seats with a corrossive smile.
“You know today is rookies’ day, right?”
“Yes, it will be awesome! We will have our little grasshopers to guide and set an example to!” Lilith said enthusiastically.
“We should arrive before time if we want to practice what we preach,” Kristania continued, staring at the door and then back to them. “…I challenge you to a race.”
With a competitive glint in her eyes, she ran and crossed the door without waiting for anyone. Encouraged by the challenge, Lilith stood up.
“…What do you think you’re doing?” Marianne said, barely keeping her books.
“You heard it! It’s a challenge, we must do it! We have to set the example for the new members!” Lilith said, rushing her things in her backpack and bolting out of there.
“Hold on!” Marianne cried, trying to close her bag as quickly as possible, and going after her just to find Dreyson right out the door.
“I think we’re headed for the same club,” he said, backing away from the wall and straightening up once he saw her out.
“…You don’t have to wait for me. The auditorium is right next to the gym,” Marianne snapped while the door opened again, giving way to Addalynn. She glanced at them and walked away without a comment.
“I just wanted to go with you,” Dreyson said loud enough to be heard.
Marianne scowled as Addalynn turned around the hall, and then just started walking with Dreyson stepping on her heels, though he only had to take longer steps to catch up with her.
“If you’re somehow trying to use me to make Addalynn jealous, I warn you that it won’t work,” Marianne spat and Dreyson glanced at her in silence, until his conniving smile made it seem like she had nailed it.
“You have no way to know that.”
“Even so. Don’t even think that will work only because of your pretty face. It takes more than a drastic makeover, you know?”
“I have a pretty face?” he replied in amusement. He clearly didn’t seem to be taking her words seriously, so Marianne glared at him and focused on her way. “I noticed you were warching me during classes.”
“…So?” she inquired, reminding herself to be more discreet the next time.
“If that’s the case I must be doing something right and your argument is invalid,” he concluded, and although Marianne gritted her teeth, she kept herself from spitting out the real reason, and as much as she disliked the idea, she let him keep thinking that.
“Have you seen anything strange lately? I’ve heard that some guys have… seen mysterious appearances around town,” Marianne changed the subject, acting uninterested, trying to get information in her own way.
“What kind of mysterious appearances?”
“Something like… the party where some guys ended up in the hospital. I heard some people claim to have seen a weird guy out there looking for victims to uhmm… assault.”
“Haven’t heard of anything like that,” Dreyson replied with a shrug.
“Well, if you haven’t heard, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; but you can be more cautious from now on,” Marianne continued, trying to quickly think of any other way to address the issue. Dreyson, meanwhile, surreptitiously turned to her, surveying her.
“Do you care about me?”
“…No! I’m just saying—!” Marianne snapped, hoping not to raise a misunderstanding, but couldn’t find a way to justify herself without arousing suspicion, and Dreyson already looked more than satisfied with himself anyway, so she considered making a run to the auditorium and leave him behind.
“…I may have seen something strange last week,” Dreyson commented, and although Marianne waited for him to elaborate with disguised interest, he said nothing else.
“…So? What did you see?” she asked to encourage him to say more, but he seemed unwilling to keep talking —at least not that easily—, and his outlined smile proved it.
“You haven’t given me any reason to tell you; maybe later when I feel compelled to,” he replied playfully, which enraged Marianne, but she wasn’t willing to play along; her patience was limited.
“Well, whatever! It’s not like I’m forcing you or anything. I was just trying to alert you about the dangers in town!” she finished, pushing the door to the auditorium to access before him.
Demian’s face contorted when he saw Dreyson coming through the door. He sought Marianne with her eyes to make sure she had been warned and she just made a slight nod to confirm it while running across the room to meet the girls.
“So that’s why you took that long to get here: you were… busy,” Kristania remarked with a smile that went beyond the mere mischief her friends sometimes addressed her with.
“It was just like five minutes,” Marianne spat, trying not to get into an argument with her despite disliking her tone.
“Well, there’s so many things that could happen in five minutes!” Lilith seconded Kristania’s idea and Marianne gave her an incredulous look, feeling betrayed.
“That’s what it takes to get here like a normal person and not as a runaway horse,” she retorted, looking reproachfully at her friend.
“Chill out! It was a joke! Don’t take it so seriously!” Kristania said, laughing as if expecting that kind of reaction from her. Marianne bit the inside of her mouth and saw Lilith was pouting at her response.
“…We need to talk. Where’s Lucianne?”
“She hasn’t come yet. I thought she would be more on time.” Right when Lilith said this, the door opened again, and Frank entered with a stern expression as Lucianne came right behind him. She seemed flustered, trying to speak to him, but giving up in the presence of others and choosing to approach the girls instead. “He seems upset.”
“I don’t know what’s gotten into him now, he hasn’t spoken to me.”
“Maybe he heard you weren’t exactly lonely yesterday,” Kristania intervened with that sketchy attitude, innocent on the outside and devilish inside. Lucianne frowned in confusion but didn’t have time to ask any question because the coach called everyone at the center of the court.
With the girls’ first official match in just one day, he would need to focus on them, so he asked the boys to take charge of the new members, and since most of the team was still resentful with Demian, they collectively decided to leave the responsibility to him. He stood in front of the group minutes later, cursing his luck, while the new members watched him, including a crossed-arm and ill-tempered Frank.
“…Well, the first thing you should learn is the basic positions and warm-ups. That would be enough for today.”
“Enough for today? What I want to do is to throw the ball into the hoop. That’s all it is about, right?” Frank interrupted defiantly.
“It’s more than that. First you must learn the rules if you want your shot to be valid without commiting a foul.”
“But that’s basically it: you must throw the ball into the hoop. I want to learn that first, then I’ll care about the rules. I don’t want to waste my time with exercises for dummies,” Frank replied, eager for confrontation, while the other boys kept silent, even Dreyson, who was only watching without intervening.
“Very well. If you think it’s that easy, perfect!” Demian said, losing his patience and taking a ball from a box to then throw it at him. “Come on. Do it, then.”
“My pleasure,” Frank accepted the challenge unsurprisingly. He snatched the ball from hin and walked in front of everyone else. Then he flexed his knees without looking away from the basket and threw the ball after a jump. It hit against the board and entered the basket, causing triumphant howls from Frank, clapping and moving his arms to celebrate while Demian stood aside, impassive. “How you like me now?!”
“Not bad. However, the shot is invalid, the team gets no point and you’ll also have given the ball to the opposing team. A valuable effort, but useless.”
“What the hell are you talking about?! The ball went through the hoop! It’s clearly a score!” Frank claimed.
“You didn’t dribble the ball and you can’t hold it for more than five seconds or you’d be commiting a foul. THAT is why you need to know the basic rules first.”
Frank seemed about to burst and make one of his scenes, but Lucianne was watching him from the other side of the court (several others, actually, but he didn’t care about the rest of them), and he restrained himself.
“…I’ve still scored. Once I know the rules it won’t be so different,” he assured, crossing his arms in a dignified pose while Demian shook his head, holding back the urge to retort.
“What’s going on over there? Are you already practicing shots? I haven’t seen you starting with the basic moves!” the coach said from the girls’ side. Demian picked up the ball and returned to the group of new members while dribbling the ball.
“Anyone else wants to showcase their skills before time?” The group remained silent, and not even Dreyson seemed interested in doing so. He just watched his movements intently. “All right. Let’s start with the basic rules then.”
Addalynn went to the locker room well after practice had ended and wasn’t surprised to find it empty. Nothing better than having the place all to herself. She entered the shower to take a bath and spent several minutes under the running water as she used to; unmoving, eyes closed, feeling relaxed just by the sound and the feeling of it. A state hard to achieve with the place full of girls talking about silly stuff and inevitably taking notice of her singular anctics. They would definitely make her another topic of their conversation. Shallow girls with no idea of the danger they were in. The danger that the mere existence of them as Angel Warriors entailed for everyone.
She finally opened her eyes and turned off the shower. That was enough. She wrapped herself around with a towel and walked along the rows of lockers to a full stop in front of the first row on the right. The lock was forced. She opened it and looked inside, undeterred, until she introduced her hands and took out the mound that had previously been her clothes.
She took the garment on top of the pile and stretched it out. It was almost like an unfolding a piece of kirigami made with her own coat. It had been snipped several times, with holes along the back and several scratches on the sleeves. However, she just stared at it, undaunted and unsurprised. She didn’t bother to check the rest of the uniform; she knew she would find it in the same condition.
She put the mound of clothes back in the locker and sat on the bench next to the bag she always carried and pulled out her cell. She stood on her feet again afterwards and took off her towel to put on her swimsuit again, then left the locker room thinking she would have the pool to herself, but Samael was there, already dressed up and sitting in the stands.
“You’re still here.”
“The coach talked to me when everybody else left. He also wanted to wait for you, but had something to do, so he had to leave,” Samael explained as she walked to the edge of the pool, leaving her bag and towel aside to then jump in the water in a clean dive. “…He said he was surprised by our potential in the little time we’ve been here and would like us to work overtime for the interstates.”
Addalynn simply gave smooth strokes across the pool as if she weren’t paying attention, so he left the stands and approached the pool, walking along the edge while following her path to make sure she heard him.
“He said we could represent the team if we want. We would have to first compete for our place, of course, but he’s confident that we’ll succed; that’s why he wants us to meet right here after school.” Samael continued walking along the edge until she reached the end and took momentum to swim back. At her silence, he said nothing else until she was in the starting point again and placed her arms on the edge, staying in the water.
“And that’s why you decided to wait for me?”
“Well, that and a warning we’ve been trying to give everyone, to be aware of a boy in your class. His name is Dreyson. We haven’t been able to confirm it yet, but he has some particular marks that may be linking him to a demon, so he could be under its control. According to what I’ve been informed, he seemed to have a special interest in you, so maybe you should take precautions from now on.”
“According to what you’ve been informed?” Addalynn repeated, arching an eyebrow.
“Marianne told me,” Samael said, and she gave a brief exasperated snort. She slipped back into the water and emerged seconds later with an impulse, sitting on the edge while taking her long hair upfront and starting the delicate process of squeezing it.
“I’ll take it into account,” was all she said as she concentrated on her hair.
“And… about the coach’s proposal…” Addalynn’s cell rang, and she took it out of her bag quickly. She just took a glance and kept it back while squeezing the last drops of water from her hair.
“Would that mean spending more time here without having to share the pool with anyone else besides you? I can make an exception,” she said to end the conversation and giving him one last look. “Is that all or there’s some other topic you want to discuss?”
Samael only shook his head, realizing it was time to leave, and while Addalynn proceeded to stand up and use the towel to finish drying her hair, he headed for the exit. When he opened the door, he almost bumped into Vicky, who was just arriving with Angie while carrying a long bag.
“Samuel! Didn’t think we’d find you here! Are you leaving?” Vicky said, excited yet surprised, given that the club time had ended. Beside her, Angie seemed puzzled, trying to look inside as if she would find answers there.
“Yes; I was already leaving,” he said, smiling at them both while holding the door to let them in. “Have you come to see Addalynn?”
“Yup! She… asked me to bring her something and Angie was available to come with me, so…” Vicky said, gesturing to show the bag she was carrying carefully in her arms.
“She’s in the pool. She seems to like water a little too much,” Samael said with a nod.
“Funny, right?! Being able to control electricity and stuff,” Vicky tried to prolong the conversation, but Angie knew it was over as soon as he outlined one of his farewell smiles.
“See you later.”
He waited for them to be inside the dome to leave, after which Vicky exchanged a puzzled look with Angie, but she seemed more discouraged than anything. They walked into the swimming dome and saw Addalynn’s stylized figure in the distance, standing with a towel on tow as if waiting for them.
“Here you go; luckily we always carry spare uniforms in the trunk of the car. You said the fabric got stuck in the locker and was torn when you tried to get it out?”
“That’s what happened,” Addalynn said, taking the bag and heading to the locker room without saying anything else.
“…How weird,” Vicky added. “She’s so meticulous I can’t conceive her pulling out her uniform strong enough to tear it apart.”
Angie just shrugged; all she could think of was that Samael seemed to spend too much time alone with Addalynn. It was like that mysterious halo of hers would also reach him, and she knew there was no way to compete against something like that.
A few minutes away from their second game (first official one) and the girls were sitting on the bench, tapping their feet impatiently, and nervously bitting their nails. The couple of previous practices with the new members had been a success not only because they showed interest, even more than Kristania and her cronies at the beginning, but Lucianne had also shown real knowledge beyond the basics and special skills with the ball, so the coach considered her as the team’s secret weapon.
“Relax, we have you covered; you just focus on the basket and we’ll take care of the rest. We count on you,” Lilith said, patting her.
Lucianne gave her an even more unnerving look given the weight she was putting on her shoulders.
“Don’t pressure her, Lilith. She’s got enough with the coach placing all of his hopes on her,” Marianne replied, looking at the bench across them, where their opponents were warming up for the game. “She’s just been a couple of days in the team, if we lose it won’t be her responsibility.”
“Would you excuse me? I think I need to… go out for a minute,” Lucianne said walking hurriedly towards the exit, feeling overwhelmed.
In the stands, Frank suddenly got up and tried to make his way to the door to reach Lucianne.
She was livid, fearing she wouldn’t live up to their expectations and disappoint them.
“Oh, good! The game hasn’t started yet!” Mitchell said, causing her a jolt when he appeared without warning, peering into the auditorium. “Or is it actually over and it was a quick and painless slaughter?”
“It’s yet to start. I just went out for some fresh air,” Lucianne said, taking a deep breath and then expelling it.
“Nervous, huh? Don’t worry, you’ll be over it once in the game. Maybe this will help you forget the panic for now. I have news. Fresh info on the subject you forced me to get involved in.”
Lucianne immediately pushed herself from the wall and straightened up; if anything could make her forget her concern for the game was another more important issue for her: finding out what happened between Frank and professor Leiffson.
“What is it?”
“Turns out that, despite my mother not pursuing her career and becoming a housewife once I was born, she went to college with aunt Iris. They were friends since they were young, so I asked her if she had taken classes with professor Leiffson too.”
Lucianne waited impatiently for him to keep talking, but he remained silent as if trying to create hype around his revelation.
“…And? What did she answer?”
“That’s the thing, she didn’t say anything, but her reaction on the other hand…”
“Why? What did she do?” Lucianne asked again, hoping that he would stop making so many dramatic pauses.
“First, she turned pale; looked around the room as if seeking for a way out and then just said ‘Some things are best not to remember’. I think maybe she knows something but prefers not to stay silent because it’s not her call.”
“…This is getting even more intriguing,” Lucianne remarked, while trying to mentally put together that puzzle. At that moment the door opened and Frank appeared, frowning at the sight of them standing there, in a confident pose.
“…May I know what the hell is going on here?”
“Nothing. I just got here,” Mitchell replied defensively, stepping away to distance himself from Lucianne.
“Just went out for some air,” Lucianne repeated, trying to keep her eyes on him so he wouldn’t suspect she was hiding something.
But you can’t con a con man, and to Frank it was clear that something was happening, especially after seeing them leaving the hospital together, but he remained silent and just gave them a suspicious glare while getting back into the auditorium.
“…I’ll leave you two alone then; sorry for the interruption. I forget I shouldn’t be near you outside school time,” Frank snapped before closing the door again. Lucianne sighed, feeling mentally drained.
“What are you doing here? The game is about to begin! We need you on the court!” Lilith appeared to drag her back with the team as she watched Frank dropping in his seat with a sullen expression. If he knew what they were actually investigating perhaps he would get angrier, but she couldn’t stop now that they were heading somewhere.
“Hey, big guy. Don’t be angry; I’m not trying to steal your girl or anything like that,” Mitchell said while sitting next to Frank, patting him in the back. He gave him one of his deadly stares that forced him to pull away his hand as if he would chew it off.
“What were you talking to her out there?” he demanded to know, and everyone quickly turned towards them.
“Uh… I… as I said I had just arrived. I just said hi,” Mitchell said, looking nervously at the others, including Belgina.
“That’s crap, and you know it,” Frank replied, not caring at all if the others were listening. “There’s something going on and believe me when I say that you’re gonna wish not having a butt I can kick.”
That said, he stood up and walked away towards the other end while Mitchell stayed there with a forced smile to make them think it was all a joke. Fortunately for him, a whistle turned their attention once the game started.
The coach kept the same lineup to start the game, except there was Lucianne instead of Kristania, who seemed more than relieved to stay on the bench and not having to lift a finger on the court.
They made some mistakes the first few minutes, but as they were leaving the nerves aside, they began to show greater precision and strength in their moves, especially with the boost of confidence that Lucianne’s presence had given them. With her knowledge of the game, she managed to tip the scales to their favor, and even if they weren’t in total control of the match, they had managed to block a couple of shoots and steal the ball another couple of times.
“How are they doing? Have I missed too much?” Mankee suddenly appeared behind the guys with a cap that almost covered his face and a coat that made him look like one of those old private investigators trying to go unnoticed but instead attracting more attention with their outfit.
“What are you doing here? Only students can be here,” Demian said, surprised to see him there.
“I got in through the bottom fence; Frank showed me the place on prom night,” Mankee explained, watching the game. “Lilith said she would play today and I thought I could come and see them once I closed the coffee shop.”
“I had no idea you were interested in basketball.”
“Oh, I don’t even have a clue of what the game is about. I just thought I could come and have a look.”
“And you did it just to watch Lilith? Awwww,” Mitchell said, dropping into the seat next to them.
“I didn’t do it to…! Don’t even tell her I was here, okay? I’m incognito,” he replied, readjusting his cap and his coat.
“Well, your outfit doesn’t help,” Demian said, arching his eyebrows.
“What are you saying? This is how that detective from those magazines in the dungeon dresses every time he goes on secret missions.”
Both Demian and Mitchell shook their heads.
“He’s a comic character; that’s his signature look.”
“If you wanted to go unnoticed, you should have picked something that doesn’t attract any atention. Think the opposite of me. I always dress to impress,” Mitchell said, proudly wearing his current outfit consisting of some capri pants and a colorful striped shirt that started with warm color lines, which twisted at the bottom, losing color, and a purple vest over it. “You should have dressed as always, and no one would have noticed.”
Mankee glanced around to confirm if he was indeed attracting so much attention. The first quarter finished, and the girls were returning to the benches when Lilith looked up at the stands and the first thing she noticed was the guy with the heavy coat and the cap between Mitchell and Demian. She narrowed her eyes and put her hands over them to try and see more clearly. Mankee quickly threw himself down between the seats to hide.
“Meelban! Meelban!” he cried reproachfully. “Did she see me? Is she still looking?”
“For someone who didn’t come to watch Lilith playing, you seem really worried that she can see you,” Mitchell remarked, raising an eyebrow and smiling.
“…Just tell me when she stops looking over here, okay?”
“The second quarter will start soon. I can explain the game to you, so at least you would know what’s happening and have a plausible excuse for coming to watch the game,” Demian offered, containing a smile from appearing on his face.
“I don’t need an excuse. Just not to be seen,” Mankee grumpled, stuck in that narrow space between rows.
“A little late for that, but stay strong; you can always deny it later. Learn from the master,” Mitchell said, slapping Demian on the back.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Nothing, nothing; just trying to shake a lint off your clothes,” Mitchell added, making it look like he was shaking something off his back while he pushed his arm away.
“…I think I’d better leave. It wasn’t a good idea to come here,” Mankee finally said, taking a resigned breath from his tight hideout.
“Don’t give up so soon! Even illegal immigrants like you have the right to be attracted to someone. If demons can…” Mitchell said, patting Demian once again, this time on the shoulder and he glared annoyed at him.
“…Seriously, sometimes I wonder why I let you live.”
“Because you love me deep inside even though you won’t admit it,” Mitchell quipped playfully. Mankee sighed again and sat up, looking back at the court. The second quarter had begun, and the girls were already immersed in the match again.
“…I wasn’t here, okay?” And without any other word, he went down the stands, dodging the students’ feet, and when he was about to reach the door, someone grabbed his arm, making him start before realizing it was Samael. “…Why do you always have to do that? You almost gave me a heart attack.”
“I noticed your presence and needed to talk to you about a delicate matter.”
“Apparently everybody noticed me, thanks for the reminder,” Mankee replied with a snort, taking off his cap.
“You see that guy in front of the stands? The one bending forward and watching the game intently?” Samael asked, pointing at Dreyson, sitting in a corner.
“The intimidating looking and really tall one? Are you asking me if I know him? Because I’ve never seen here before.”
“No. I need you to do something. It’s very important. Remember those guys with the bruises in the hospital?” As Samael said this, tension gripped Mankee’s body at the memory of being devoured from within.
“…Oh, no. No, no, no. NO,” Mankee snapped, turning again towards the door.
“It’s not a sure thing, just a suspicion. Maybe the bruises aren’t even the same as those. If we manage to get close enough to get in touch with him…”
“I already said no! I said I wouldn’t do it again. Respect my decision,” Mankee finished, struggling to open the door until it finally did. “Good night.”
“I said good night!”
Mankee finally got out of there ignoring the angel’s attempts to convince him, so the latter came back after his failure and noticed several eyes looking at him, even Dreyson had diverted his attention from the game to him with curiosity. Samael tried to act unconcerned and just returned to the stands like nothing happened.
Mankee crossed the school grounds in the dark, looking cautiously around as if fearing something would jump on him at the slightest distraction, until he reached the back fence. He jumped over it, helped by a crooked tree, and crossed to the coffee shop with his hands on his pockets, feeling ridiculous after everything he had done. Things wouldn’t be the same if he had never fled his country, but it was something he had to do if he wanted his freedom.
He looked at the glow of the lamp in front of the coffee shop, dimly lighting up the façade, and sighed.
That was his life now and had to continue that way. He walked across the street, alone in the darkness, when suddenly a chill stopped him in the middle. It was a feeling born in the center of his brain and spreading through his body, like a cold hand creeping on him. His eyes widened at full capacity and panic took over over him.
“…She found me,” he said in a whisper, overtaken by fear. He took a few slow steps before evolving into a race to the coffee shop and closing inside, turning off all the lights to make it seem there was no one there.
Long time after the game was over (with the girls winning by one basket), the boys from the basketball team were the last ones to leave, laughing and joking around, confident about their place in the interstates.
“What do you say then? Do we stop the silent treatment to Demian?”
“He’s the captain after all; we’ll have to communicate at some point.”
“Maybe we should propose a new captain; we still have the chance to decide before we go to the interstates. He’s been captain for three years now, I think it’s time for a change,” another boy suggested and they all seemed to agree as they crossed to the side exit.
As they approached the parking lot, a figure suddenly rose from the night, standing right next to the fence as if waiting for something. They didn’t pay so much attention until the figure stepped in their way, blocking them out. It was wearing a gray hooded sweater that prevented them from seeing its face.
“Hey, you! What do you want? Let us go through,” demanded one of the boys, but the figure didn’t move or flinch, hidden under the hood. “…Who are you?”
The figure slowly raised its face, revealing a devil shaped mask and a pair of avid amber eyes glowing in the dark. Eyes that narrowed in what it seemed to be a smile.