3. THE UNWITTING ALLURE OF THE ICEBERG
It was weird to start the class with almost half the students missing and the uncertainty of what to do next. Despite the massive absence, the teacher would not delay her schedule even for a day and started to form teams.
“…You three at the back of the room, the transferred students, you’ll form a team.”
Vicky looked up, realizing she was pointing in their direction, from an unfazed Addalynn to the boy with glasses who, for the first time, took his eyes off Addalynn’s back and lifted his gaze.
“And you. You’ll join them,” the teacher continued, her finger pointing at Marianne. She immediately startled and looked sideways.
“That’s right, you’ll form a team with them; now, you three…” the teacher kept going, now pointing at her three friends, “you’ll be the second team, and joining you…”
Her gaze turned to search around the room, looking for a fourth member to the newly formed team, but before she could point at someone else, Lilith jumped up.
“Kri! I mean… Kristania! We want Kristania,” she suggested, and her friends looked aghast at her.
“…Okay, but it will be your responsibility to bring her up to date. Let’s get going with the third team…”
Lilith settled into her seat, satisfied with her action and then noticed the looks on her friends’ faces.
“…What? It’s Kri!” she said as if it that alone was enough reason. Her friends just shook their heads in disbelief.
Meanwhile, Marianne sighed after being put in another team. She liked Vicky okay, but was still on the fence about Addalynn, and regarding the guy with the glasses, she’d rather not even think of him.
“Would you like to come to my house this afternoon?” Vicky said after class, standing in front of Marianne and trying to also address the boy two seats to the side, though he didn’t seem to pay any attention. “…You know, to bond as a team and start the research for next week.”
Marianne glanced at Addalynn, who remained unmoving in her seat, and then at the boy behind her. She had no idea how it would be to deal with those two, but at least she should make an effort to get the team off the ground with Vicky.
“…Sure. Just tell me what time, I already know how to get there,” she finally said.
“I figured you’d know!” she said with a more relaxed smile and then she handed a piece of paper to the boy. “…That’s my address.”
The boy didn’t answer nor took the paper, just stared at it without changing his position.
“…Well, I guess it would be okay at five. We’ll be waiting.”
“I’ll be there,” Marianne replied with a reassuring smile. Vicky returned to her seat and Marianne’s face clenched again, glaring at the boy with the glasses even though he seemed disinterested; it was as if he had chosen to ignore them all.
“I’m not gonna say I pity you because at least you have an excuse now to go to Demian’s house, but except for Vicky, I think you have a tough team to handle,” Angie commented as they walked towards the exit.
“Why would I need an excuse to go there? Besides, it could be worst, at least Kristania is not in my team.”
“…Yeah, we should thank Lilith for that.”
“Why would you say that?” Lilith said as if it made no sense to her that they wouldn’t want to team up with Kristania.
When they reached the intersection, Mitchell was already waiting for them down the stairs, and Belgina purposely delayed her steps to hide behind the girls. Marianne noticed neither Samael nor Demian were with him.
“Where is Samuel?” Angie was the first one to ask, eager as ever to see him.
“I have no idea; after we talked, he disappeared and hasn’t returned since.”
“What do you mean he disappeared? He didn’t say where he was going?” Marianne asked with a frown, pulling out her cell phone to try to locate him.
“You’re wasting your time, I already tried to call him, and he didn’t answer.”
Marianne lowered her cell again with a snort and started to type a text. Vicky and Addalynn were already stationed on the side door, waiting for Demian, while several boys watched the blue-haired girl as if deciding who would go first.
“Someone should tell them that Demian’s in Tae. He’ll come out later,” Mitchell said, pointing at the girls with his eyes. They turned to them and noticed that the boys had decided to approach as a group while Addalynn tried to ignore them.
“…Can’t they leave that girl alone? She clearly doesn’t want to talk or being addressed in any way,” Marianne said, keeping her cell in her pocket.
“Neither by them nor anyone else; it’s like her whole social circle is limited to Vicky,” Angie added while watching them with curiosity. Addalynn was only responding with monosyllables and an icy expression, showing her total lack of interest, and yet the guys were still trying too hard.
“What are we looking at?” Lucianne asked as she joined them.
“That group of boys trying to talk to Addalynn by all means.”
She had already turned away, leaving them mid-sentence, but still they all persisted.
“…I can’t watch this anymore,” Marianne huffed, holding on her school bag, and starting to walk in their direction. The others followed her, but Lilith remained at the end of the row. “Hey, if you’re waiting for Demian, you may as well do it somewhere else; he’s not coming out right now.”
At that sudden interruption, the boys had no choice but to withdraw and leave. Vicky turned to her with an almost grateful expression and Addalynn seemed as poised as ever.
“Join us at the coffee shop. You could wait there.”
“Oh, yes! I wanted to see the place up close!”
Marianne smiled back and then saw Loui already getting out of his school area.
“…Go on, I’ll catch up with you,” she said, heading toward her brother.
“Goodbye, ‘cupcake’!” some kids shouted at Loui, running past him and laughing. He didn’t even turn around and kept his head down with an upset expression.
“Did they just call you…?”
“It’s nothing, okay? Let’s go home now.”
“I’m not going home yet. I have something to do before.”
“I’ll follow you, then,” Loui said hurriedly.
“You can’t come with us. I’ve told you many times.”
“Will you make me walk home alone?” her brother glared at her reproachfully.
“There’s the bus, you know. And what about Lilith’s little sister?”
“She’s got her own friends,” Loui snapped with a scowl.
Marianne watched him, trying to discern what was going on with him, and given the way those children had called him out, it wasn’t hard to guess that he was being picked on. Somehow, she felt guilty; after all, this was her school, and even though she had received a similar treatment upon her arrival, now she felt satisfied with her current status: not exactly above average, but at least she had friends of her own.
“…Okay, but don’t bother us or try to get into our conversation,” Marianne agreed, and Loui promptly followed her.
“Where’s cousin Samsa?”
“…He had something else to do. And stop calling him that.”
They took a short cut through the side door and out to the bus stop. They were barely coming out the parking lot when suddenly a car horn beeped several times as if they were blocking the street. A car stopped in front of them and rolled down the window. It was their mother.
“Good to find you here! I was thinking on taking you somewhere to eat.”
Marianne raised an eyebrow in disbelief. Her mother had never picked her up at school, and the only reason she took Loui was because she worked in his old school. After her gift was taken away and all the time she spent in the hospital, she thought her job was lost, but fortunately she got it back. She finished right before her usual schedule, but her sudden idea of taking them out to eat seemed to follow another reason. After all, her father had said he would still visit them every day and even take them to eat.
“What are you waiting for? Get in! Is Samuel with you? He should come too,” she insisted, opening the passenger door. There was a manic flash in her wide grin and Marianne suspected that perhaps it was another one of her childish retaliations against her father, like each time she felt frustrated or angry at him.
“…I’m sorry, I have something to do, and Samuel said he would be in the library… but Loui is good to go,” she said, pushing her brother, as an opportunity to get rid of him.
“Hey!” the kid claimed, giving her a bitter look.
“…Okay, fine! It’s gonna be just Loui and me… as it always has been!” her mother snapped reproachfully as she adjusted Loui’s seatbelt. Marianne just rolled her eyes, aware of her mother’s passive aggressive tactics. “…And don’t be late at home!” saying this, the car drove away, leaving Marianne alone as she originally intended.
She took a breath to relax, and when she was about to cross, she noticed the disheveled new guy sitting at the bus stop. He seemed to be waiting for the bus, though he was fixed on a distant point, hidden by his glasses. But Marianne had no doubt that he was looking at the coffee shop, where Addalynn was supposed to be at the time. She was dying to tell him how creepy he was acting, but then remembered how rude he was and refrained. It wasn’t her problem, after all.
“I thought you were gone by now.”
Marianne jolted and saw Demian behind her. He was carrying his sports bag over his shoulder and his jacket tied around his waist.
“I still have to get used to the new schedule. I forgot I would have Tae at the last hour.”
“Don’t worry, Mitchell told us. I was just going to the coffee shop; your sister and Addalynn are already there,” she replied and couldn’t help but look askance at the bus stop to check if the boy had reacted at the name, but he didn’t even flinch. Maybe he wasn’t even paying attention. Demian turned around confused and Marianne decided to cross the street. “…Well, I guess you must be in a hurry, so you should tell me what you needed to say.”
Demian grabbed her wrist, and she felt an electric current running through them at the touch. Marianne looked at him with a veiled expression and he held her gaze.
“…It might be better if we avoid the crowds for what I have to say.”
A twinge in her stomach. Something inside her started to burn while her skin got cold by contrast.
“…What is it?” she asked, trying to sound self-possessed. She did her best to hold his gaze but couldn’t help glancing at his hand while holding her wrist.
Demian took a breath and remained stern; he knew the subject would be uncomfortable for them and had to be ready to address it. He even felt a tingling in his own wrist but tried to hold it still.
“I got a call from your father yesterday.” He could feel her ligaments suddenly straining under his fingers and her arm getting stiff, but still didn’t let go. “It was right after Fencing. I didn’t know how to tell you while the others were around.”
Marianne didn’t say a thing. She was too busy trying to order her body to respond, and not look like an idiot while thinking about her father. It wasn’t something she wanted to talk about. Not with him or anyone else.
“He asked me for help to find a place to stay,” Demian continued, given that she hadn’t talked. Marianne immediately twitched and released herself abruptly.
“…What kind of help?” she finally asked, feeling sick at the thought that her father would take advantage of his position as Demian’s legal guardian to ask for financial help, which he seemed to get and quickly shut it down by shaking his head.
“No, no. Not the kind of help you’re thinking,” he immediately clarified. “…He just asked me to find a hotel where he could stay for a while. In fact, I offered him to stay at my house, but he refused.”
It should have been a relief to her, but it wasn’t. All she could think of now was that Demian knew her situation at home and she didn’t want him to pity her or to feel obliged to help her. She was fine with their current karmic balance and didn’t want to spoil it.
“I just wanted to tell you that,” he said, putting his hands into his pockets, not so sure anymore if he should have told her, but aware that she had the right to know. “…You can talk about it whenever you feel like it.”
She looked at him. That was exactly what she feared. The phrase that turned her into a charitable work. She couldn’t even stand whenever Samael said that, and he was her guardian angel. She bit her lip and averted her gaze, looking for a quick escape. And then she noticed that the boy sitting at the bus stop had straightened a bit; his posture said that he suddenly seemed interested in what was happening a few feet away despite staring straight ahead. Marianne clenched her face and folded her arms, feeling exposed.
“…Let’s go. Your sister’s waiting,” she said, glaring at the boy in the bus stop, and turning around to cross the street.
Demian just glanced at the boy in confusion. He seemed to be minding his own business, yet there was something in his posture and expression that drew his attention. Still, he didn’t say anything and followed Marianne.
Inside the coffee shop, the guys had invited Vicky and Addalynn to their usual booth while Lilith was focused on waiting tables, away from the one her friends were sitting at.
As she and Demian approached them, Vicky seemed to be telling an interesting story since everyone listened intently.
“…And then he shouted ‘Look, mom, I can touch it!’. Everyone was horrified, thinking he would fall at any time and there was already a safety net under. Helicopters were flying all over the place. It was like a scene taken from King Kong,” Vicky was saying while the others laughed and Demian immediately stiffened.
“…What are you telling them?”
“Oh, you’re finally out! Just a little something about the time you eluded the town fair’s security team and climbed the wheel of fortune until you reached the top.”
Demian looked reproachfully at her while the others smiled with amusement, especially Mitchell, who had a huge a grin from ear to ear.
“So, you wanted to go up to the sky. That’s the sweetest and yet ironic thing I’ve heard in a long time,” Mitchell said mockingly and Demian glowered at him.
“And what happened then?” Lucianne asked, urging her to finish her story.
“Vicky…” Demian muttered, giving her a warning look, but she took it as a challenge and decided to continue.
“He said he would fly to the sky and then plunged into the void, falling on the safety net. He asked if they had seen him fly. Dad grounded him for several weeks.”
“Okay, enough. We gotta go,” Demian interrupted, trying not to show his embarrassment.
“Why the rush? We’re having a fun time here. Would you like to eat something? Oh, look, a coin!” As he said this, Mitchell took out a coin and passed it in front of him in a teasing way while Vicky giggled and Demian gave her a death glare.
“…Did you also tell that story?” He said, snatching the coin from Mitchell’s hand.
“Oh, relax! It’s not that big of a deal! Had I known you had a piggy bank complex, I would have given you my savings for lunch,” Mitchell continued, relishing the moment to annoy him as much as he could.
“We’re going now,” Demian ordered, increasingly annoyed by the idea of having his sister telling stories about him.
“Are you mad at me?” she asked, showing the most pitiful face she could, knowing it would soften him.
“Don’t be mad, Demian. The coin story was sweet, and the wheel of fortune one too. Though a little more dangerous, maybe,” Lucianne said.
“Who would have thought you were a little devil after all!” Mitchell added.
“He was so restless; like that time when we went to the zoo…”
“Enough. Out,” Demian interrupted before she would keep spilling details from his childhood.
“Don’t get carried away!” she replied, rising to her feet and beckoning Addalynn to follow her. “Come on, Addalynn, before my brother gets even madder when he finds out I already told the story about the zoo and the wolves.”
Demian winced again and Mitchell’s look of utter joy confirmed that indeed she had told them everything, so he took a deep breath to keep calm.
“See you tomorrow and thanks for keeping us company!” Vicky waved off and then pointed at Marianne. “And I’ll see you later!”
Marianne smiled and nodded, while Demian gave her a questioning look to which she responded with a shrug.
“…Thanks for taking care of them,” Demian said before leaving.
“Don’t worry, it was completely worth it… Who is afraid of the big bad wolf?” Mitchell started humming with a huge smirk and Demian sent another death stare at him.
“…Go to hell, Mitchell. See you later,” he finished, turning around to leave and glancing at Marianne on their way out with a more suble smile.
“So, you came here together, huh?”
Marianne quickly turned around and noticed that they all looked at her with huge expectant smiles.
“We casually met outside… Could you stop smiling like that? You look scary,” she said, taking a seat where both girls had been moments before.
“All right, I’ll go see what’s going with our orders. Do you want me to bring something else from the kitchen?” Mitchell asked in another attempt to address Belgina, but she merely shook her head and stared at her tea. He gave a resigned sigh and got into the kitchen while the girls just raised their eyebrows.
“…Don’t judge me, please, you know how things are,” Belgina excused herself.
“We haven’t said a thing,” Lucianne replied, moving her tea with a straw.
“Have you heard from Frank?”
“…When he takes that stance, no one can take him out of it, even when he’s aware of how intolerant he’s acting,” she replied with a distressed tone, right when the bell of the door rang.
“…Samuel!” Angie belted, smiling widely when they saw him approaching.
“Where have you been?!” Marianne asked as he walked gravely towards them with Frank behind him. “…What is this?”
“We met at the hospital. Apparently, we shared similar ideas,” he explained.
“Hospital? What were you doing there?”
“There’s no time for explanations, we need Mankee,” Samael let out in an urgent tone that worried them.
The decision was quick: Mankee would go with them to the hospital while Lucianne would stay in his place, since she was the best at cooking; the others would stay behind for support, except Marianne, who insisted on going with them.
“Seriously, you’ve been able to deal with things without me, why would you need me right now when I’m really busy?”
“Less complaints, immigrant, or someone could end up deporting you,” Frank replied with his usual bluntness and Mankee tightened his mouth. Right where it hurt the most.
“…That was cruel.”
“No one will deport you, okay? And you, you should seriously work on your attitude towards others,” Marianne said, pointing at Frank.
“The pot told the kettle,” he retorted, getting a grunt from her.
“Silence, we’ll only have a chance before it’s too late,” Samael interrupted the exchange before the argue escalated. “So far, their condition isn’t considered serious in the hospital, but they have no idea, they’re not dealing with simple bruises.”
“What are you talking about?”
Once in the room, Frank immediately stood by the door to prevent anyone else to enter.
“Good, seems like it hasn’t completely spread out yet,” Samael said, watching one of the guys while Marianne and Mankee approached cautiously.
“What exactly do you mean? I don’t see anything out of normal… all things considered.”
“On the outside, but inside…” Samael replied, lifting the robe from one of them and Marianne quickly covered her eyes.
“Don’t do that without warning!”
“Wow,” Mankee let out a surprised expression and Marianne slowly uncovered her eyes, noticing the dark stain spreading around the boy’s stomach. Like tar moving under his skin and constantly expanding. She pulled her hands away and reached for the stain.
“Careful,” Samael advised and as she laid a finger on that spot, she felt a shock that forced her to immediately withdraw her hand.
“It’s negative energy. Who did this?”
“I have no idea. I got into their memories, but the one who did this was wearing a mask. I don’t know if it was the same Demian saw in the gym, but he didn’t look like smoke to me. All I could make out of him were his wolf-like eyes.”
“What’s that energy making inside them?”
“I don’t know either. Maybe killing them slowly or perhaps transforming them into something else. I don’t think we should wait to find out.”
Marianne nodded. Whatever the purpose of that stain of dark energy spreading through their bodies was, they shouldn’t allow it.
“Then I guess I’m here to somehow free them from that stain?” Mankee asked, unconvinced.
“You have a special power; you’re able to purify those who are invaded by an evil power.”
“But you said yourself that you don’t know what that stain is supposed to do; how are we supposed to know if it will work like the others?”
“We’ll only know if you try.”
Mankee sighed, knowing there would be no way to convince him otherwise, and then looked fearfully at the black spot covering and darkening the boy’s skin. He took a deep breath to gather some courage and drew his hand closer to the boy’s face, placing it at the height of his forehead, fingers together and slightly flexed. He concentrated with all his might until his hands flashed a light and flooded the guy’s body, but once the light decreased, he saw the stain was still there, spreading like spilled ink.
“Didn’t work, what are we supposed to do now?” Marianne asked, staring at the stain.
“Perhaps you’re trying to purify the wrong area,” Samael surmised and Mankee glanced towards the boy’s abdomen.
“…I hate to do this,” Mankee snorted. He put back his hand, now over the boy’s stomach, and repeated the process; however, nothing happened. “It’s useless, not even like this…” When he relaxed his hand, he lightly grazed the skin of the boy and got suddenly pinned to him, like attracted by a magnet. He looked down in bewilderment and the three of them watched surprised how his hand began to absorb the stain, like a vacuum cleaner. Then it started to darken, but as much as he tried to take it away, it was impossible. “What should I do?! Help me!”
Marianne and Samael pulled him out, but his hand seemed fixed and immovable from that point, until it finally absorbed the dark substance and managed to pull away from the boy. Mankee stumbled and looked at his hand; the black stain was moving under his skin and no matter how much he shook it to make it disappear, the substance eventually moved along his arm and disappeared under his clothes.
“…What am I supposed to do? What’s gonna happen to me?!” he wailed, desperate at his inability to handle the situation.
“Relax, your own power will prevent it to hurt you,” Samael said soothingly.
“Didn’t you see it? It… it got into me, and now…”
A knock on the door alerted them.
“You’d better hurry, the nurse is coming back,” Frank’s muffled voice warned them from the other side of the door and the three looked at each other in silence.
“…Mankee, you have to do it,” Samael insisted, accentuating his gaze, and Mankee looked at the rest of the boys while holding himself as if starting to feel the chills.
“…I think I’m going to be sick.”
“It’s psychosomatic. Come on, you have to do it soon, we don’t have so much time,” Marianne intervened, doing her part to convince him.
Mankee took another breath, then let out a long exhale and got down to work. He went through every single boy, watching helplessly as his hand sucked those black stains until they were all clean. It took him a couple of minutes to go through all of them, after which he ended up exhausted, with his hands on his chest, as if fearing something would sprout out of him at any given time.
“Was that all?” Marianne asked, running her gaze around the room to verify they hadn’t missed anyone.
“Yes, I think it’s time to get out of here,” Samael said, and at that moment the door opened, and the nurse came in, right in the moment the angel made them invisibles.
“What was it?” Frank asked once outside.
“Dark energy; but a different type from what we’ve seen so far,” Samael replied. “We don’t know what it was supposed to do to those boys, but we couldn’t wait to find out.”
“Are we expecting then more of such attacks in the future? Aside from what happened in the gym?” Frank asked again, raising an eyebrow. “…That, of course, if the gift-eater demon it’s even real.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?” Marianne questioned him, immediately getting defensive.
“Simple, because we only have another demon’s word for it,” he replied, folding his arms and getting back to his unyielding stance. “Even if you hate me for thinking so, but what if he made up the whole thing just to not have to deal with us? I’m not trying to detract him for trying to reintegrate into society in recent weeks, good for him! But that doesn’t change his nature. Maybe in the gym he had a relapse and tried to disguise it as an attack by another demon. And the party thing? Perhaps it was him with a mask, intoxicated with power after his first attack in a while and wanting more.”
“Nothing of what you’re saying makes any sense!” Marianne shouted, frowning.
“…Guys,” Mankee murmured clutching his chest and his face contortig.
“Doesn’t it? Or your feelings for him prevent you to see it as he is?”
“…I don’t have feelings for him!” she yelled even louder after a brief pause.
“Guys!” Mankee interrupted, raising his voice, and they turned to him. He had opened his shirt and watched in horror the stain spreading on his chest, swirling around it. “…I don’t like it at all.”
Samael took his arm and pulled him to the closed alley.
“How are you feeling?”
“…Not so good,” Mankee admitted with a sweaty and pale face. “I think… I’m going to be sick.”
That said, his body hunched to one side, held from the wall and began to retch, expelling a dark liquid that once in contact with the floor evaporated instantly. The others could do nothing but watch.
“…What’s happening? Is it… the energy he absorbed? Is it hurting him?”
“His metabolism is expelling it; we can only wait until he’s finished.”
“Get it all out, don’t let any of that crap inside you,” Frank said, trying to be supportive by patting him in the back.
When he finally stopped, he remained a few minutes leaning on the wall, heavily breathing. The last wisp of the evaporated substance had just finished vanishing in the air.
“Are you feeling better?” Marianne asked and he gave a little push to the wall to straighten back and opened his shirt to take a look at his chest again. The stain seemed to be gone, but his skin was still damp and yet he was starting to shiver.
Samael touched his forehead and noticed he was burning, yet his sweat was cold.
“You have a fever. You should get some rest; that would be enough for you to completely get rid of that negative energy.”
“…You said nothing would happen to me,” Mankee complained, teeth chattering and eyes burning.
“I said your own power would prevent it to hurt you, and that’s what it did by expelling it from your body. Just be patient and hang on.”
Mankee bent again amid cramps and the guys had to hold him steady so he wouldn’t fall to the ground.
“I won’t… do what you tell me… ever again,” Mankee blurted in the midst of his agony. Minutes later they had taken him back to the coffee shop. Given his condition and inability to return to work for the rest of the day, they decided to close earlier than expected and even decided to take turns to look after him while he was still feeling sick.
“And you forced him to absorb that negative energy all by himself? That’s criminal!” Lilith protested as she was putting a compress of cold water in his forehead; his body was shaking with tremors under the effects from the fever.
“Someone had to do it or who knows what would have happened to those boys,” Marianne said after noticing Samael’s remorseful expression.
“But exposing his health without being sure if he would be able to handle it is wrong, what if he ended up being invaded? What if his body couldn’t stand it and had just died? Even if he has no one in town and it would be relatively easy to get rid of his body since he has no family to claim him or even a legal staying in this country, that doesn’t mean you can use him as a guinea pig,” Lilith continued before their bewildered faces at her inappropriate words, even though she didn’t seem to notice.
“…Am I dying?” Mankee asked, trying to open his eyes, partly listening at their talk.
“Ohhh, poor Monkey. Of course not, you’ll be fine thanks to my special care and anyone can certify it,” Lilith assured, sounding like a mother instructing her little child. “Now, stand up straight and drink this.”
“…Okay, shift turn!” Lucianne quickly stopped her as soon as she pulled a glass full of a greenish goo. “There are still many things to clean up in the kitchen, why don’t you help with something while I take care of him?”
“I’m also staying here,” Frank decided with a hint of wariness, standing at one side of the bed with crossed arms like a custodian and Lucianne gave him a questioning look. “…In case you need anything.”
The others left the dungeon and went up the kitchen with thoughtful expressions.
“What if he stays like that the whole night? What would we do?”
“I’ll stay here to watch over him,” Samael decided, taking responsibility. “…I think I owe it to him.”
“But you can’t just decide not to appear at home, mom will worry.”
“How about taking the night shift?” suggested Mitchell. “Since you can transport here in a heartbeat no one will notice your absence at that time. We can sort out the other shifts.”
Samael accepted quietly.
“I have to meet with Vicky later. Team work. I need to go home so my mom doesn’t say I spent too much time outside.”
“That’s right, team work! We can do it here, don’t you think?” Angie suggested now that the three of them were in the same place.
“But Kri’s not here,” Lilith said with a pout.
“She can’t come here right now for several reasons, Lilith,” Marianne snapped before leaving. “…And whatever you do, don’t let her give him that green goo to drink!”
“Hey, you can’t question my legendary remedies! They’re legitimate!” Lilith claimed while she was leaving with Samael.
Since he got rid of the house service, Demian had come used to fast foods and ordering at home. But it was different with two girls at home, coming from a school where they enjoyed all the privileges money could buy, and his sister didn’t stop complaining about the lack of service since her arrival.
“Seriously, a cook. At least we need a cook if we want to live remotely comfortably,” she insisted, fiddling with her precooked lasagna.
“We don’t need the services of people outside the house. If you put some effort, I think we could manage the house pretty well, which means you would have to take care of your own clothes, cleaning your own room, taking turns to clean the house…”
“You’re not seriously expecting me to clean the WHOLE house!” she interrupted, extending her arms around. “I’m fifteen, give me a break!”
“…Okay, then. I may hire someone to come and clean once a week, but that’s it. We will handle the rest,” Demian decided as a last resort and she seemed to take this as a small victory, sure that she could convince him later to give in something else, though he wasn’t willing to.
The least he wanted was people around the house when he could lose control at any time. With Vicky was different, he felt like himself aroud her, like before everything fell apart. And even though he couldn’t do anything about Addalynn’s presence, at least she was so quiet that he barely even noticed her —regardless of her appearance that drew anyone’s attention.
“By the way, we’re doing teamwork later. We’ll take dad’s studio. I hope you don’t mind,” Vicky warned him, taking the fork to her mouth.
“Is that why she…?”
“Oh, yes! Someone else is supposed to come too, but I don’t think he will, so it will be just the three of us. It’s better that way, I think.”
Demian just nodded, keeping quiet and looking at his lasagna. Although he had wanted to be honest about Marianne’s father, he couldn’t help thinking that perhaps it would have been better not to tell her; after all, she always shut down whenever someone brought up her family dynamics.
“Thanks for the food,” Addalynn announced, leaving her half-finished plate and withdrawing from the dining room with the solemn air that always seemed to follow her.
They both watched her leaving in silence until losing sight of her and Vicky immediately leaned into her seat towards Demian.
“You have to do something. I know you have some sort of influence at school, you have to use it for Addalynn.”
“I don’t think she needs any help to stand out if that’s what you mean,” Demian said, thinking it was a strange request from her considering that wherever the girl set a foot she became the target of everyone’s attention.
“That’s exactly the problem! She doesn’t like the attention, and since she came to school, boys hadn’t stopped coming to her and following her everywhere. It’s really annoying and they’re getting on her nerves, you have to do something!”
“And what do you expect me to do?”
“I don’t know! Talk to them so they would leave her alone; make an assembly just for guys or something like that and expose the issue to them,” she suggested as if it were a piece of cake for him.
“…I don’t know what kind of ‘influence’ you think I have, but I promise you the guys won’t stop doing what they want just because I say so.”
“But you can try! Come on, brother, I’m sure you’ll come up with something.”
Demian sighed and stood up, taking his plate and also Addalynn’s.
“Are you going to finish that, or you’ll keep throwing at my face the poor diet I’ve submitted you?”
Vicky grimaced, wrinkling her nose, and pushed her plate towards him to indicate he could take it. He just rolled his eyes and took the three plates, heading for the kitchen. As he straightened and looked up, he caught a glimpse of Addalynn’s head through the door, as if she was just walking away from there. Perhaps she had heard them talking about her.
He decided not to mention it and went to the kitchen, though still thinking she was a very strange girl.
Marianne stopped in front of the gate along with Samael.
“You can leave me here. I’m sure that if anything happens, you’ll find out.”
Samael stared at the house with an enigmatic expression, feeling some kind of alluring presence inside. Marianne raised her eyebrows and looked back at the house.
“You’re wondering if Addalynn’s in there?”
“…Who?” Samael seemed distracted, as if taken out of a contemplative state.
“You know, the girl who suddenly seems to capture everyone’s attention.”
Samael frowned confused, while looking at the imposing house, so Marianne rolled her eyes and sighed.
“Anyway, you should go home so mom won’t notice your absence.”
“Will you be okay?”
“I already told you I’ll be fine. It’s just homework. Besides, Demian’s here too. I’m sure if there’s any problem he’ll be able to solve it… and I hope you don’t bring up any kind of comment like ‘If he’s not the one causing it’ and stuff Frank would say; gosh, give him a break,” she went ahead of any response he would give.
“I trust you.”
“…But not him?” She twisted her eyebrows, finishing the sentence she thought he was trying to say, but Samael smiled, looking more relaxed.
“If you trust him, I could also try,” the angel clarified, and she seemed taken by surprise, so her face went through various expressions trying to find the right one until nodding solemnly.
“…Good. See you later then,” she finished, indicating he could leave without worry and he understood, tilting his head forward and backing off a few steps. He took one last look at the house before turning around and going back on the same path they had come.
Marianne turned back to the house, approached the gate and held the bars while resting her forehead on it. Demian had to be informed about what Samael had seen in the memories of those boys; maybe he could have some idea of what they were facing, since he seemed quite upset at the mention of the attacker’s eyes. Maybe they would have a chance to talk about it after teamwork… that, of course, as long as neither his sister nor Addalynn were present.
She took a breath, trying to gather the courage to ring the bell, and then felt the vibration of the gate, as if someone had clung to it. She turned her face curiously and saw the lanky guy with glasses leaning on the fence and looking inside.
Marianne scowled; she couldn’t forget his rudeness. She had a bad habit of holding on to her first impressions, which had proved to be quite inaccurate, but she couldn’t help feeling immediate rejection of the boy. He didn’t even seem to mind anyone, either, so why should she care? She didn’t bother to greet him or even speak to him, just let go of the fence and went to the intercom, pressing the button below. Then waited for a few seconds to hear the hum that indicated the gate was open.
“Did you work it out?”
The unexpected voice took her out of balance, forcing her to turn astonished to see if it was the boy with the glasses who had spoken. He kept staring at the house and wouldn’t let go of the gate; however, he seemed to finally pay some attention out the corner of his eye. But even if he had talked, she wasn’t sure he was addressing her nor the meaning of his question.
“Your father. Did you work it out?” the boy repeated. Marianne blinked at him, incredulous that he dared to ask that. She clenched her jaw, thinking that he was just mocking her to let her know he had listened to their conversation.
“…That’s none of your business!” she snapped with indignation, and then the gate opened. She hung her backpack to her shoulder and decided to stride inside, leaving the boy behind, but he was soon right beside her; his long legs made each of his steps the equivalent to two from her.
When they reached the door, Vicky was all smiles, even though she seemed genuinely surprised to see the boy next to Marianne, but quickly hid it with a wider smile.
“…Oh. You decided to come after all. Good,” Vicky let out and turned to Marianne, who just shrugged as if stating that she didn’t think he would show up either. “…Come in! Make yourself at home!
“Vicky, the only thing I ask of you is to be careful with…” Demian stopped at the stairs after seeing Marianne already there, and before saying anything, he noticed a boy he didn’t recognize at first, but then remembered from the bus stop.
“Oh! I know I said it would only be Marianne, but… he’s also part of the team,” Vicky said before he could ask any question. “He’s… uh…”
She paused for several seconds, trying to remember his name.
“…Dreyson,” Marianne helped her up, given that the boy didn’t even bother to say it.
“Right! Well, he’s my brother, Demian,” she continued, turning now to Dreyson.
“Nice to meet you,” Demian said with a slight nod, but the boy didn’t respond, he only seemed interested in taking a look around, as if he had never seen a house like that before. Vicky looked at her brother as if apologizing for his behavior.
“…And we’re off to do homework now! Addalynn is waiting in the studio. Follow me,” she finished, beckoning them to go with her.
“Just be careful not to mess anything or scratch the table,” Demian instructed her, giving one last look to Marianne, who also glanced at him before entering the living room.
Addalynn was already inside the studio, sitting at a long mahogany table with a polished surface while reading a book. The walls were lined up with shelves full of books, leaving only space for a window and a huge desk in front of it, full of documents. Addalynn lifted her gaze for a few seconds and immediately looked back at the book, only to close it.
“Relax, it was only fifteen minutes. It’s all right,” Vicky said, trying to lighten things up as she dragged her chair and sat beside her.
“Lift the chairs, don’t drag them or you’ll ruin the floor,” Addalynn said as if she owned the place.
Vicky just laughed, trying to follow the girl’s orders. Dreyson however did not, he pulled out the chair right in front of Addalynn, and a screech reverberated throughout the studio. The girl said nothing, didn’t even look at him. The boy then settled a backpack that looked very heavy on the table and slid it noisily on the surface. It was as is if he was trying to get a reaction from her.
“Er… what if we start the investigation? I’ll go get the books,” Vicky said, trying to bring some order.
“The books are already here,” Addalynn stated, pointing at the pile she had set aside, and Vicky sat down again, trying to find a way to organize that odd little group.
“Lastly, we have to expose our work to the class. I could do that,” Vicky offered herself once they were almost done.
“I can make the slides,” Marianne said, raising her hand after the others remained silent.
“Perfect! And since Addalynn has already done enough of the research we can use the information she’s gathered, and… uh… Dreyson could…” She fell silent again, having no idea of his strong points. All he had done since they arrived was just sit there and watch Addalynn through his glasses and the thick hair falling on his face.
“He can handle the slides during the exposition,” Marianne suggested, and since he didn’t seem to protest, they decided to go with that plan.
“Well, I’ll go get something to drink while we’re here!” Vicky said, leaping from her chair, and Addalynn immediately got up too and followed her without uttering a word, leaving Marianne and Dreyson alone in complete silence, like two ghosts ignoring each other’s presence.
He kept staring at the door where the two girls had gone, his arms loosened on the table and his shoulders hunched forward. Marianne finally gave a snort and rolled her eyes.
“…You should stop acting like a creep,” she said, scribbling something in her notebook.
The boy said nothing, he just turned to her and gave her one of those ‘stay out of my business’ stares. She decided to hold his gaze in challenge.
“…Oh, no, you’re not going to intimidate me with your little psycho glare game. The only thing you’ll get is a restraining order and everyone will brand you a stalker.”
The boy still didn’t talk, just kept looking at her with a sullen expression until he decided to avert his gaze. She rolled her eyes again, thinking it was pointless, and focused on her scribbles again. After a few seconds, the boy finally spoke.
“…Your father must be a bastard.”
Marianne stopped what she was doing and looked at him agape. Had he really said such a thing, or had she misheard? He seemed nonchalant, just as detached as he had been since day one. He hadn’t said that; it couldn’t be. And then the boy looked back at her.
“Do you hate him, or just keep telling yourself he’s going to change?”
Marianne opened her mouth, as if to say something, but no word came out of her, with eyes like marbles and a frozen expression.
“I brought some cookies. I hope you don’t mind; we have no cook and I’m terrible in the kitchen.”
Vicky went back into the studio, carrying a tray filled with cookies and some beverages, followed by Addalynn, who just walked behind her like a shadow.
“Would you excuse me? I gotta go to the bathroom,” Marianne said, pushing her chair with a jump and walking out with her arms stiff at her sides.
She crossed the living room up to the main hall and stopped in front of the stairs, holding the railing so hard, she seemed about to pluck it out.
“Are you okay?”
She jolted and looked up. Demian was standing at the top of the stairs.
“I… yes, of course, why wouldn’t I?”
Demian glanced behind her and she turned around, discovering that the coat stand was stirring, as if an invisible force was sucking it up. She immediately released the railing and tried to relax. The stand went back to its usual static position.
“…I know it sounds ironic coming from me, but you should get a hold of yourself or you might attract unwanted attention,” Demian said, walking down the stairs and standing in front of her.
“I know. It was just a lapse, it won’t happen again,” she answered with a sigh, reproaching herself for letting a single comment get under her skin.
“Is this because of your father?”
“…Let’s not talk about him, okay?” she said, struggling to cast off another surge of anger.
Demian was sure now that he was the reason, so he chose to remain silent. Marianne waited a few seconds to calm down and quickly tried to change the subject.
“So… you ate coins as a child?” she let out casually and he looked at her surprised that she would bring that up, but almost immediately suppressed a smile.
“…It’s silly. I might have been like five or six at the time and it was Vicky’s birthday party,” he tried to explain, deciding to grant her the story as compensation. “There was a magician in the party who did several tricks, and she was so delighted that I tried to replicate them for her later. I wanted to do the coin trick, but couldn’t get it right, and when I saw her disappointed face, I ended up swallowing it. And problem solved, the coin was gone. She looked so happy that every time she asked me to do it, I swallowed one. That is, until my father saw me doing it one day, and took me straight to the nearest hospital. They took fifteen coins out of me. The doctor couldn’t explain why I hadn’t shown any symptoms… but I guess now that it was due to my condition.”
“Wow, that was… unhealthily cute. I never thought you would have a soft side,” she said, and noticing he seemed to recoil at her comment, she tried to rectify. “…I mean, not because… of what you are, after all, you’ve proved to us that you can break preconceptions and pave your own way without following what you’re supposed to do and… please, make me stop.”
“Don’t worry. It’s true, anyway. I have to remind it myself every day to stay in control,” he replied, trying to smile to show he wasn’t affected by it, though she felt remorseful.
She had promised herself not to make any difference between him and the others to make the transition easier to him, and now she had ruined it with her word choice. So, they fell into an awkward silence the next minutes, until a scream coming from the studio forced them to look at each other’s eyes, fearing the worst.
Demian reacted first and ran in that direction while Marianne followed him closely, wondering if it could be the shadow he talked about.
However, once they crossed the door, they only found Vicky in front of Addalynn, trying to block her way while the latter kept her hair pulled to her shoulder with a distorted face. On the opposite side, Dreyson’s face was hanging low, and he was holding his cheek with a hand, his hair almost covering his face.
“…He touched her hair,” Vicky explained breathlessly.
Addalynn seemed to relax, let go of her hair and made a head motion to accommodate it on her back again, after which she lifted her face in a fiery gesture.
“…Teamwork is over for today,” she said, walking steadily to the door, while Vicky lowered her arms again with a sigh.
“I’m so sorry, I should have warned you before,” she said, clasping her hands in apology and Dreyson wordlessly took his heavy backpack with one hand and walked out of there with tense shoulders and his face down.
He strode in the middle of Marianne and Demian without slowing down and they followed him with their eyes. They expected to hear the slam of the door, but only heard the faint clatter of the lock opening and closing.
“…Well, then… I guess there’s nothing else to do today,” Marianne said, lifting her brow in a gesture that seemed to point out how crazy that was. “I’ll take the research home and work on the slides.”
“I’m sorry things have ended this way!” Vicky apologized again.
“Don’t worry. I know what it is to deal with difficult people and colliding egos; it’s my daily bread,” she said while writing down something on a piece of paper and handing it to Vicky. “My e-mail so you can send me the info.”
“Oh, perfect, I’ll send it right now!”
“I’ll take you home,” Demian offered, checking his pockets for his keys.
“Uh… actually, I already sent Samuel a message to come for me.”
Demian stopped right when he had taken out his keys and grimly put them back.
“…Sure,” he blurted out, trying to sound unruffled, but his mouth was tense.
“Who’s Samuel?” Vicky asked curiously.
“He’s my… cousin,” she said with a slight pause and glancing at Demian since he already knew the real nature of their relationship. Her cell rang and she quickly pulled it out. “…He’s outside. I guess it’s time for me to go.”
“Wow, he arrived so fast!” Vicky said with astonishment. “Like teleportation!”
Marianne laughed nervously at the reference.
“…He was probably in the neighborhood,” she justified, looking for Demian’s gaze, but he was looking at his watch.
“I’ll walk you to the gate then,” Vicky went ahead, getting out of the studio.
“You go. I still have things to do.”
Demian turned around and marched up the stairs without looking back despite Marianne’s confusion. Just moments ago, he had offered to take her home and now it turned out that he had no time to even lead her to the gate; she just didn’t understand what was going on with him.
Vicky escorted her all the way through the garden to the gates where they could see someone turned back and with the hum of the gate opening, he turned around.
“Thanks for everything, Vicky. This is Samuel by the way. And she is Vicky.”
“Nice to meet you,” Samael greeted her as charming as ever, and Vicky immediately responded with a giggle that seemed to go along with a sigh. Her whole face spread into a smile, baring her teeth. Even her eyes and eyebrows seemed to be smiling.
Marianne raised an eyebrow, noticing her sudden change, and waited for her to say anything, but Vicky just stared at Samael with bright dreamy eyes and that smile that seemed frozen on her face.
“…Okay, so we’re leaving now. See you tomorrow,” Marianne finished, after waiting a while for a reaction. The smiling girl just laughed again and waved them goodbye; she seemed to have forgotten how to talk.
Demian watched them leave from his window. On the outside, he looked calmed, but on the inside, he felt like boiling lava running through his veins, and his wrist was itching again. He needed to clear up his mind soon.
Maybe a walk would do. He closed the curtain and went to the door, but as soon as he left his room, he sensed a warm sweet aroma mixed with spices, a smell he didn’t sense in the house long ago. It was coming from the kitchen; someone was baking something.
He decided to find out what it was. Perhaps it was only in his imagination; his mind might be evoking smells from the past, or maybe it was coming from a neighboring house, which meant his senses have sharpened. Any of these options were more viable than what he saw entering the kitchen.
Addalynn was cooking.
He watched her move from one station to another, chopping onions, slicing tomatoes, seasoning a sauce, boiling pasta, opening the oven to check over a cut of meat. He couldn’t believe it. He remained standing at the door in complete silence until she noticed his presence.
“…I don’t like people staring at me for so long,” she snapped, but soon returned to her task, as if she were in her own kitchen.
“Sorry, it’s just… I didn’t expect to find you here,” Demian said after a moment of perplexity. “I had no idea you knew how to cook.”
“Nobody asked me,” she said with a shrug while pulling out the pasta and putting the sauce on top.
Demian kept watching her, trying to discover what was going through her head. Why had she suddenly decided to cook? Perhaps it was her way of thanking them for allowing her home despite her antics. Had she heard the conversation with Vicky?
“You keep looking at me,” she said again without even turning. There wasn’t a hint a complaint in her voice, she didn’t even seem annoyed, she just sounded as distant and unfazed as ever.
“Sorry, I was wondering… if you were having problems at school. I heard some guys were bothering you?” he asked to give her a cue, so she would speak about it.
“Most guys are always the same; they see something they like and feel attracted yet intimidated. They need more guys joining them, so they could feel their approval and suddenly they are brave enough to pursue it. They swarm, they can’t do anything alone.”
For some reason, this analogy reminded Demian the time Marianne compared him with a fish… well, it wasn’t exactly like that but kind of. Addalynn suddenly stopped cutting vegetables and pitched the knife aside.
“…You’re different,” she said, still giving him the back, with such a tone that Demian couldn’t help feeling a slight twitch inside, but after a pause she added: “…You don’t try to get my attention or judge my ways. I thank you for that.”
She then took the knife back and continued slicing the vegetables in complete silence. Demian didn’t react for a couple of seconds, thinking of something to say that resembled a normal and polite response, but only managed to mumble ‘Okay’ and then left the kitchen with a blank expression.
It was just an idea. It couldn’t be otherwise… but when she said he was different, the tone and inflection in her voice gave him the sense that she was trying to convey more than it seemed. As if she knew what he really was.