Chapter 4


Samael felt lethargic. It was the wee hours of the morning and he was still watching over Mankee going through his agony while getting rid of the tremendous amount of negative energy he absorbed. He promised to do it, and felt partly responsible for it, too.

Mankee kept squirming in his bed all night, feverish and possibly hallucinating. Sometimes he even mumbled something in another language, words that were meaningless to him, and perhaps even parts of incantations that still were etched in his memory, though occasionally he let out isolated phrases in a tone that highlighted a dread that seemed to come from the depths of his own self.

“…No! Don’t come!” he cried in the middle of his nightmares and meaningless babbling, placing his hands in front of him, as if trying to protect himself from something. “…Stay away… I don’t need you…”

Samael could only watch him, waiting to see how everything would unfold to decide what to do next, and right when he saw him trying to claw at his own face, he held him up and tried to awake him.

Mankee’s eyes flew open with a spasm and he looked around with heavy breathing, as if desperately trying to recognize the place, until his eyes focused on Samael.

“…Am I still alive?”

“Yes. You’re gonna be just fine, the fever is almost gone,” Samael said with a reassuring smile.

“…I don’t care how many more times the thing with the dark stains happens… I won’t be your personal vacuum again.”

“I’m sorry I put you through this without being entirely sure what would happen, but there was nothing else to do. Everyone has an important role to fulfill within the team according to our skills. It’s our duty.”

“Well, that sucks,” Mankee concluded, looking up at the ceiling and wiping the sweat from his forehead. He wasn’t shuddering anymore and seemed more composed, but his face was overshadowed with an expression that could only be described as bitterness, feeling somehow betrayed. “…I still won’t do it again, okay? I won’t let you use me.”

Samael sighed and dropped his shoulders in a humble attitude. He knew he wasn’t going to convince him of anything at the time, so he just left it that way.

“We’ll talk later, okay? Try to get some rest for now.”

“I mean it; it’s not just the sickness talking,” Mankee added, switching to him and holding his gaze. His eyes had darkened just like his face, giving him a hard expression. “I didn’t want to be part of this from the beginning. I didn’t go through a lot to get here only to end up being your human vacuum cleaner. I won’t go through that again.”

The angel just watched him in silence. He knew he was being serious, but there was nothing he could say at the moment.

“…Turn off the light when you leave,” Mankee finished, looking back at the ceiling, and Samael understood it was time to go. He sat up, settling the chair away, and walking towards the exit. He slid the gate from the dungeon and turned off the light.

“…Turn it on. Turn the light on,” Mankee requested again with an urgent tone and he did it. “…Thanks. You can go now. Shut the door behind you.” Samael did as he was asked, sliding down the gate with a strong rattle. “…Open it. Leave it open… You know what? Why don’t you stay until I fall asleep? In case I… get sick again… or something like that.”

Samael heaved a sigh of resignation and took the chair again, while Mankee closed his eyes. Apparently, his role as a guardian angel was now taking a literal meaning. He remained sitting there in silence, waiting for him to sleep and trying not to fall asleep himself.

It was up until the first daylight coming through the window that he could finally leave and go home in a flash. There was no time to sleep, the sound of footsteps and voices below kept him up. When he entered the kitchen, Marianne and Loui were already having french toasts and orange juice for breakfast while their mother was still in front of the stove making another round.

“Good morning, Samuel. I hope you’ve had some rest. Do you like french toasts? Because I made a full plate that must be emptied,” Enid greeted him with an almost psychopathic smile, showing a plate with a tower of toasts and placing it in front of him as he sat down.

“…Thanks,” he answered with a shy smile. He couldn’t get used to that kind of care, especially since he pretended to be someone he wasn’t.

Marianne gave him a glance as if to ask how late he had returned, and he just shook his head. Loui looked from one to the other.

“Stop the secrecy while I’m around! It’s annoying,” he demanded while taking his third toast. Marianne kicked him under the table, but not even that stopped him. “Ouch! How does it feel to hit someone smaller than you, huh? Do you get any personal satisfaction?”

“Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed or what?” Marianne said, frowning at his sudden outbreak as their mother sat down to join them at the table.

“What are you talking about? Tell me; think of me as one of your friends.”

She seemed to be trying too hard to act like ‘one of the guys’, so much that Marianne and Loui exchanged suspicious glances.

“…No offense, mom, but we can’t think of you in a different way. You are our mother… as immature and vindictive as you can be sometimes.”

“Very well then,” she replied with a more severe tone. “Then, as your mother, I warn you not to make any plans after school, we’re eating outside.”

Marianne and Loui looked at each other once again, as if they were already expecting something like that after the failure of the previous day. It was yet again another ploy to beat their father, as if they were in competition. Even if her opponent wasn’t competitive at all and would rather stay out of it whenever she adopted that stance.

“You can come with us, Samuel. Lunch with your new family, that’s what’s going to be,” Enid proposed, looking at Samael again with that frantic smile, in desperately need of acceptance.

“He can’t go, he’s got teamwork at school,” Marianne said, trying to release him from the commitment.

“…Oh, okay. It’ll only be the three of us then.”

Marianne sighed, dreading their ill-fated lunch already. Her mother wouldn’t miss the chance to discreetly take cheap shots at her father with her passive aggressiveness. It wasn’t something Samael should witness.

“We’re here. Have a nice day,” her mother said later, stopping the car in front of the school entrance. “And remember I’ll be coming for you after school! Don’t you dare to plan anything else or look for any other excuses!”

She then left with screeching tires, not even giving them chance to respond. The three were left standing there for a moment.

“Well, well. You seem to be in good company lately,” Kristania suddenly interrupted with that arrogant tone and haughty smile that made her look like her old self. Marianne returned the gesture, raising an eyebrow and waiting for her to keep talking, reminiscent of the old days, but the girl’s sharp features froze for a second, then softened as if remembering she had a new image to sell. “…Ha! You should see your face right now! I bet you believed it! That shows that my acting range remains intact. Aren’t you going to introduce me?”

Marianne squinted, not believing for a second one single shred of her performance. She knew it was fake and was also sure that Kristania was aware that she knew it, but wouldn’t break character either, not with the new image she had built around her, and surely, she was waiting for her to accuse her of something to play the victim card. But she wouldn’t give her the upper hand, so she just huffed and squared her shoulders.

“…They’re Samuel and my brother Loui,” she introduced them reluctantly.

“Enchanté,” she greeted with a sneer of victory tattooed on her face. Both Samael and Loui merely nodded while Kristania’s little gray eyes scrutinized the angel up and down.

“…So, your cousin, huh?” she repeated with curiosity, but also with an incredulous tone in her voice.

“Believe it or not. There are documents to prove it,” Marianne said almost defiantly and Kristania only chuckled, as if telling her not to take it so seriously, though she couldn’t help feeling it was a warning. If there was a laugh translator, hers would probably say ‘I know you’re hiding something and someday I’ll find out, but for now I’ll just show you my most deranged face to upset you while trying to figure out what I’m up to’.

Kristania looked from the angel to the kid without erasing that smile and finally patted Loui’s head.

“…He’s so cute, your little brother. It’s a shame they have to grow up,” she said in a condescending tone, and Loui immediately twitched and took a step back, though she didn’t seem to take offense. “I’ll go to our classroom; see you there.”

She tried to show again another fake smile, and when she turned around to go into the building, the sway of her hair and her own walking kept betraying the true nature Kristania was so keen to hide.

“…She gives me the shivers,” Loui said, shaking his body as if shuddering.

“You tell me,” Marianne seconded, following the girl with her gaze until losing sight of her, and then she turned to Samael. “Well, you heard mom, she’s coming for us after school, so you’ll have to fill me in about…” Realizing her brother was still listening, she felt compelled to shut up and glared at him. “…Don’t you have a classroom to go to?”

“It’s not even eight yet and I’m not in a big rush,” Loui replied with every intention of staying there to feel part of their secret business.

“Go to your classroom!” Marianne insisted, losing patience, but Loui just crossed his arms and stood his ground in a defiant pose.

“…Make me,” he challenged her. She glared at him and before she could do anything, he clung to Samael’s sleeve. “Cousin Samsa will defend me or else I can slip a few things at lunch with mom… Maybe even when you’re not around.”

Samael seemed stunned as Marianne looked daggers at her brother; however, Loui’s moment was cut short when suddenly his expression changed drastically after seeing something in the distance. Instantly his body tensed and pulled away from Samael and adjusted his school bag, suddenly eager to leave.

“…I remembered I have to finish homework before class.”

And without further ado, he ran to the entrance while Marianne watched him curiously at his sudden change of heart.

“I wouldn’t mind it,” Samael said, interrupting her thoughts. She turned without understanding what he meant. “…Lunch with your mother.”

“Oh, no. Trust me; you’re better off the deal. I’ll let you know when it’s over.”

More and more students began to enter school and Marianne noticed the trio of kids who had shouted something to her brother the previous day. They were pushing each other and laughing foolishly while going through the entrance. A flash of suspicion sparked in her eyes. Her cell phone rang at that moment, startling her, and she took it out of her pocket, realizing it was her father. The usual feeling of emptiness clawed in the pit of her stomach and had to wait a few seconds for it to settle before answering.

“…What’s up?” she replied curtly. Samael just watched her while she turned her face away. “We already have plans with mom after school… Dinner? I don’t know, I… might have homework and… oh, the bell just rang, I must go to class, talk to you later.” She hung up and five seconds later the school bell rang while her hand still clutched the phone and then she noticed Samael looking at her. “…Maybe I’m developing some precognitive ability or something like that… We better get in.”

In her classroom, Lilith was talking enthusiastically to Kristania, who kept her face frozen in an unnatural smile. She was probably giving her the ‘good’ news about her inclusion on their team. She could almost hear the gnashing of her teeth behind her grimace.

When she got to her seat, the new guy was already sitting in his chair, staring straight ahead with a thoughtful gesture. His gaze moved to her for a split second, but immediately turned to the empty seat in front of him. It really seemed stalkerish, but Marianne wouldn’t say anything to him, not after his comment about her father.

As she settled in her seat, she noticed that Angie was now sitting in front of her when it was usually Lilith the one sitting in that desk.

“Lilith asked me to change seats,” Angie said with a quick shrug.

The blonde came back, as lively as ever, and sat right next to Angie, then turned to them with a smile and ignored their questioning glances.

“Kri is thrilled about being in our team! I explained to her what we did yesterday; she said she will do everything humanly possible to attend to our next meeting.”

“Imagine that,” Marianne replied, skeptically. “Why did you change seats?”

“I just… I thought Angie would like to be closer to her childhood friend,” Lilith quickly replied, but they didn’t buy it.

“Yeah, right. Why are you avoiding her?”

Lilith kept her mouth shut; she didn’t want them to find out about the kinds of things that used to prowl in her head. She would look like a psychopath with homicidal thoughts. She had clearly seen the girl dead in her head and preferred to stay away to prevent that horrid vision to become reality.

“…Lilith,” Marianne insisted at her silence, but before she could continue, Vicky and Addalynn arrived. Vicky immediately ran to them with an expression of overflowing joy, and after dropping her bag carelessly over her seat, she leaned towards Marianne.

“You always meet in the coffee shop after school, right?”

“…It’s not a rule, but you could say that most of the time we do,” she replied, puzzled at her extreme excitement.

“Great! We’ll join you, guys, then,” Vicky said, taking a long breath to calm herself; then she turned to her left and saw Angie sitting on Lilith’s seat and viceversa. “…Oh, you switched seats… Didn’t know you could do that.”

“I asked her so I could be closer to you,” Angie lied as to not making her feel bad, and Vicky glanced at Lilith who was back into her bubble.

Vicky forced a smile and took a seat while Addalynn headed towards her desk sith stronger steps than usual, and her face sculpted in ice. As she reached her seat, she settled her bag carefully on the desk, but instead of sitting, she faced the boy with the glasses.

“Never ever touch my hair again. In your life. And stay away from me.”

The entire class went silent as if someone had pressed the pause button. All eyes were now on her and the boy, who merely looked expressionless at her. She took her hand to her hair and pulled it to the side and then turned her back to him, sitting upright. The laughter and mocking immediately ensued.

“Hey, four-eyes! Do you have a fetish for girls’ hair?”

“What do you do with it? Do you weave it and make your own furry dress to wear it in front of the mirror every night?”

The mockery continued. Anyone else could have lost it, and yet the boy never budged. Marianne almost felt sorry for him, but she just had to remember his words and her jaw clenched. It was the arrival of the teacher that ultimately ended the taunting.

While the teacher informed them about the first parents meeting on Friday, a piece of paper dropped in Marianne’s desk from Vicky’s seat. It was a note asking her for Samael’s phone number. She looked up and saw her smiling face half turned towards her, beckoning her to write back in the same paper. Beside her, Angie also peered with curiosity.

Marianne sighed, imagining what that would entail once Angie found out. She took her pen and wrote: ‘I’m not allowed to give his number, but you can ask him directly when you see him’. Then she balled the paper up and threw it back to Vicky, careful that the teacher wouldn’t notice.

She relaxed and tried to pay attention to the teacher, who was still talking about the parents meeting. This reminded her that her father was now Demian and Vicky’s legal guardian, which meant he had to attend the meeting representing them.

Was he supposed to do it for Samael too? She hadn’t even thought about it. In a way, it was kind of ironic that they ended up sharing the same legal guardian, an angel and a… She tossed the thought away from her mind. For some reason, she couldn’t even think of that word anymore.

She tried to focus on the teacher again when another ball of paper fell in her desk. She looked up, thinking it was from Vicky, but she was looking at the blackboard where the professor wrote down some instructions. Then she turned to her friends, but they were just as focused and didn’t seem to notice the paper ball either.

She decided to open the note, careful not to draw any attention with the rustle of the paper, and then read: ‘What bothers you the most about your father?’. Her brow clenched immediately and turned to the guy two seats away. He was looking straight ahead as usual, but she had no doubt it was him. She crumpled the paper and threw it inside her backpack. She wouldn’t give him the pleasure of playing his game.

“Are you upset?” Lilith asked as they headed for their first basketball practice.

“It’s nothing, it’ll be over soon.”

“Really? Because knowing you, your mood always ends up bringing you problems.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, at least I can blame my mood, what is your excuse to avoid Vicky? You haven’t even given her the chance.”

Lilith paused and bit her lip, stopping just outside the auditorium’s door. Marianne waited with a challenging expression and at that moment they felt a sudden weight on their shoulders. Kristania was leaning on them, committed to her good friend act.

“Who knew?” she said, anchoring their arms. “Last semester we were at war and now we share as a team. How things change so quickly, don’t you think?”

“I’m glad we’re friends now, Kri!” Lilith said, clinging to her arm and rubbing her head on her shoulder like a cat while Kristania kept that frozen smile of hers. Marianne glanced back and saw her two lackeys following her while twisting their mouths.

They entered right when the boys had already started practicing. Demian turned to them and couldn’t help but scowl in disbelief, seeing Kristania pinned to both girls’ arms as if she still lacked her gift. Marianne made a gesture raising her eyebrows to let him know that she understood his confusion.

“Hi, Demian, why the long face?” she said pulling her best face in front of Demian. “You shouldn’t be so surprised. We’re friends now.”

“Very good friends! We’re in the science team!” Lilith said, showing the only genuine smile among them.

“Well… good for you… I guess. Glad to hear it,” Demian said, unconvinced. Kristania puffed her chest and tightened the girls’ arms with a proud smile and eyes so wide it gave her a deranged look.

“Sure, I would have preferred a team with all of us together, including your sister, who seems such a lovely girl, but I’m sure it won’t be an impediment to know her a little better.”

That was it. I knew it, Marianne thought. It was all just a charade to look good in Demian’s eyes and rebuild her image —not that she had a very good one to begin with, but common sense in Kristanialand seemed completely absent—, and what better way than being nice to his friends? She couldn’t just fake in front of him, she needed to keep up the act with them too and in everybody’s sight. So cunning! The only one she felt sorry for was Lilith, who had truly bought her act and had grown to like her over the time she lacked the Malice gift. Kristania, queen bee and mean queen, her legend was still alive.

“She’s quite friendly… so I don’t doubt it,” Demian said out of courtesy, but he didn’t buy that act either, and since Marianne kept grinning every time she spoke, he couldn’t help slipping a short laugh before repressing it again. Kristania turned quickly towards her, but she was back to her poker face

“…Well, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. I guess you’ll want to return to your practice,” Kristania finished the exchange rather unexpectedly. She released the girls’ arms and now held their shoulders while leading them away from him.

“…Hey!” Demian interrupted and Kristania quickly turned to him thinking he was talking to her, but he was looking at Marianne. “Did you hear about the Friday’s meeting?”

“Don’t worry, he’ll come,” she assured him.

“There’s no problem, right?” he insisted with an expression that seemed to say: ‘Are you sure?’, but she just shook her head reassuringly.

“Talk to him. You may have to remind him the very day. His memory isn’t quite right lately.”

“…Okay. I’ll do that,” he said, trying to smile before going back to practice. Marianne turned around and Kristania stuck at her side with that frozen smile on her lips.

“…What was that?”

Marianne saw a chance to try to rile her up and show her true colors.

“Oh, not so much. My father is his legal guardian now, you know. We’re kind of family now,” she replied while mentally adding ‘A big dysfunctional family’.

“…Oh, right. I see,” Kristania said with that huge strained smile, as if picturing the different ways she could tear her up in shreds. “…This will be a great semester. I’m sure.”

“Okay, stop everything you’re doing and come here! Club meeting!” the coach called everyone out to leave the practice aside and gather around him.

The topic was simple, the following week would be the traditional club hunting week, and there would be a change on their two-day exhibition due to the formation of the girls’ team. The girls would have their display the first day and the boys the next one, so practice would be entirely dedicated to the girls for the rest of the week. So, the boys could leave earlier to give the girls the chance to prepare.

Demian took his sports bag and headed for the exit, but not before taking one last look at the girls and his eyes met Marianne’s. A slight smile curled on his lips before crossing the door and she seemed puzzled, but also smiled briefly at the end. Things were as usual once again. She didn’t want it to change.

By the time they returned to their classroom most of their classmates were already leaving and Vicky quickly got up with her belongings in tow.

“We were waiting for you! Are we going to the coffee shop now?”

“Uhm… yeah, I just have to…”

“Hi! You must be Vicky,” Kristania intervened, standing in their way and quietly pushing Marianne. “We haven’t officially been introduced. I’m Kristania, nice to meet you.”

“Oh, of course! Nice to meet you too!” she answered equally excited to meet new people.

“…Shut up!” Kristania suddenly said, pointing at her clothes and the girl looked at her blankly until the gray-eyed girl took the little pin she wore around her neck, representing a henbane flower with a skull shaped center. “No way! Are you fan of Lissen Rox?”

Lilith immediately flinched after hearing that.

“Yes! I’m number 100 on the official list of members! They sent me a limited edition set of accessories as a gift in addition to the autographed poster.”

“You’re so lucky! I did everything in my power to reach the top 100, but I barely ended up in the top 500. I’m 497.”

“You bet I was lucky! I won some privileges like getting pre-sale tickets for his concert in London, it was amazing! By the way, don’t tell my brother, he has no idea I was there.”

“What a coincidence, Lilith is also a fan of his,” Angie commented, and all eyes rested now on Lilith, who nevertheless looked like a deer in a highway.

“Really?” Vicky said with a huge smile, hoping to finally have found something to bond over with her, but Lilith’s face contorted and after a brief hesitation, she started walking off with stiff limbs.

“I-I’ll go to the coffee shop. Monkey may need help.”

And then darted away, almost fleeing. Vicky’s face darkened dejectedly while Addalynn stood apart from them, looking at her mobile and trying to ignore everyone around.

Kristania gave her a curious look, watching her from head to toe as if mentally comparing herself to her. She finally forced a smile and spoke.

“…Good call to put that weird guy in his place. We shouldn’t tolerate stalkers like him,” she said to engage a conversation with her. Marianne rolled her eyes thinking ‘Look who’s talking’.

Addalynn just glanced at her for a couple of seconds and then looked down to her screen again, typing something quickly.

Kristania seemed offended at her lack of answer, but did her best not to show it on her face and tried again.

“Your hairstyle is striking; perhaps that’s what’s drawing so much attention. Maybe someday I’ll also dare to wear a flashy color as well. Tell me, do you use any special products to take care of it?” she continued, her arm stretching towards her hair.

When Vicky realized it and tried to stop her, it was already too late. As Kristania held a lock of her hair, Addalynn reacted automatically, giving her a resounding slap.

The place seemed to freeze instantly with such a dreadful silence that anyone would think the sound of the slap had left them deaf. Incredulous gazes were fixed on them from all directions, open-mouthed, and perhaps the only perceptible sound right then was Kristania’s heart pounding violently against her chest and her blood pumping so hard that her face was completely flushed and her eyes bulging as if they were about to pop out at any given moment.

“…I’m sorry! I’m really sorry!” Vicky finally reacted, standing in front of Addalynn and trying to fix things with Kristania, who had a deranged look on her eyes. “…Please, forgive her! She didn’t do it on purpose! She just… she doesn’t let anyone touch her hair! You understand that, right?”

Kristania was already wheezing heavily, staring at Addalynn, stabbing her with her eyes. That was the look Marianne remembered from camp, right after she pushed her into the lake and got her almost drowned; she even thought that would be the moment the true Kristania would emerge and show her claws.

“Let me make it up for you in some way, please. I’m having a special lunch at my house for my birthday on Saturday, you’re invited.”

And just as if she had said the magic word, the redness of Kristania’s face began to fade and to recover her poise.

“…Okay, thanks for the invitation. I’ll be there,” Kristania replied with a choking voice, as if stifling a scream. Then she took a hand to her cheek and glared at Addalynn right before striding away.

Vicky looked reproachfully at her friend while their spectators still stood stunned, some girls even retreating a few steps away from Addalynn, fearing she might do the same thing to them just by bumping into her.

“You guys go on, I have family duty and won’t be able to join you,” Marianne said, beckoning her friends to keep going, and even though they seemed to hesitate, they finally got going until the hall returned to its normal course, as if the incident moments ago hadn’t even happened. Once it was all cleared and she was the only one standing in the middle, she took a moment to breathe for the evening that was ahead of her.

She was about to resume her walk when the tall guy with glasses left the classroom, slightly hunched and hands in his pockets. She gave him a stern look, thinking he would make a comment about the note he had thrown at her, but he just continued on his way without even looking at her. His backpack hanging from his shoulder, so bloated it seemed like he was carrying bricks, and his sleeves so long, they almost hid his hands.

Freak, she thought, but immediately shook her head remorsefully. She shouldn’t be thinking of him that way when she was treated like that before. Karma, better keep it balanced.

She walked down the hall and waited for her brother in the intersection. A few seconds passed and she heard Samael and Mitchell’s voices coming downstairs.

“Come on! Do it for me! We’re buddies!”

“I’m sorry, but I already told you I can’t.”

“I’ll pay you in species! Hundreds of pictures that will change your life, guaranteed!”

“The answer is still no.”

“What are you discussing?” Marianne asked curiously.

“You! You’re useful too, come here!”

“…Excuse me?” she retorted, raising an eyebrow as a warning to be careful, but he ignored the gesture, too immersed in his current train of thought.

“He’s yours, convince him to help me.”

“He’s not a pet!”

“But he’s your angel, he listens to you, so tell him it’s okay to help me,” Mitchell insisted stubbornly despite the death stare thrown at him at the moment.

“He wants me to read Belgina’s mind,” Samael explained and her gaze hardened even more at a desperate Mitchell.

“It shouldn’t be a problem; you’ve done it several times before! I just want to know why is she avoiding me and maybe I could fix it!”

“If you have no idea why she’s avoiding you then you are the one with the problem.”

“…Ah, then you know what is it! You tell me then! Don’t you see how desperate I am? Have mercy on me!” Mitchell exclaimed clenching his hands in a begging pose. She just rolled her eyes in annoyance and folded her arms.

“…Think, Mitchell. You did something while she wasn’t being herself, and now she’s unsettled about it,” she said, giving him a clue, but he just looked nonplussed at her. “…Something we specifically warned you not to do and still did anyway.” Mitchell kept the same blank face and she gave up, it was pointless. “Forget it! If you can’t even recognize your own mistakes, then you don’t deserve to know or being forgiven by her.”

“Something I did while she wasn’t being herself…” Mitchell repeated, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “…Is this about the time I flirted with the camp’s counselor?”

“…Good luck with your search for enlightenment, Mitchell. You’re gonna need it,” Marianne finished, going back to her previous post while Mitchell remained in the same position.

“You really don’t want me to go with you?” Samael asked, reaching her.

“I told you. You better go with the others and then you can fill me in,” she said, but he didn’t seem convinced. “You’re now a separate entity from me; you don’t have to follow me everywhere. Seriously, try doing things that I’m not involved with. You’ll notice there’s a lot more out there that you’re missing for guarding me.”

“Let’s go to the coffee shop!” Mitchell interrupted, placing an arm around Samael to capture him and drag him out. “Belgina must be there by now, so we should look for the most discreet point from where you can read her mind.”

“I told you I’m not doing it.”

“Oh, by the way, Demian is in Tae!” Mitchell said, turning to Marianne. “He won’t be coming down the stairs.”

As he said this, he winked at her and continued dragging Samael out of there. Marianne blinked in confusion for a moment until she finally grasped his meaning.

“…Who says I’m waiting for him?!” she rebuked, feeling her cheeks getting hot and pulling faces to make it disappear. “…Stupid Mitchell!”

She took a long breath to relax. She couldn’t stand that kind of jokes; they might create misunderstandings. She stood again on the middle school entrance and leaned back against the wall, waiting for her brother to appear. She was already starting to feel bored when she received the first message from her mother asking where they had gone and that she was already in front of the school. She sighed; if her calculations didn’t fail, she would send the following message in a minute or so and then would call to put pressure on her. Before that happened, she quickly looked for Loui’s number to find out what was delaying him, when she heard running footsteps coming from the hallway.

“I was about to call you! Mom’s already outside, what took you so long?”

“I was just late, let’s go,” Loui replied, walking past her in a hurry and Marianne noticed his hair was wet.

“…Is your hair soaked?”

“I had a headache and splashed some water on me, happy?” he snapped curtly, anxious to leave.

She wasn’t convinced; surely something was going on, but she ultimately shrugged it off and they both walked to the main entrance, where their mother immediately started to honk to get their attention.

“…Take a deep breath and let’s get the show started,” Marianne murmured with a sigh.

“Break a leg,” Loui replied, heading for the car as she threw him a bitter look.

When Samael and Mitchell entered the cafeteria, the girls were already sitting at their usual table, including Vicky, though Addalynn had preferred to sit alone in another table, staring at the screen of her cellphone.

“Oh, you’re here!” Angie greeted them raising her hand and Mitchell didn’t waste time to stand beside them, stucking to Angie and addressing Belgina to her side.

“I can’t take it anymore. Tell me what I did that you won’t talk to me anymore. The doubt is killing me!” Mitchell asked, as if Angie weren’t in the middle.

Belgina just plunged into a silence stance, and looked down to avoid his gaze.

“…Do you mind? You’re crushing me,” Angie said, shrinking.

“The more you keep pushing, the less she will talk to you,” Lucianne intervened, appearing next to the table.

“This will take just a few seconds,” Frank said, taking off his jacket and dragging Mitchell off the seat and towards the kitchen. “Just a session in the dungeon; keep my jacket safe, will you?” They both disappeared behind the swinging door. The atmosphere at the coffee shop seemed to be hold for a few seconds to then return to normal as soon as the scene was over. Belgina sighed and stood up of his seat.

“…I’m sorry. I can’t stay here after this,” she said, waving off and heading towards the exit without giving the others a chance to say anything.

“They can’t stay like that forever,” Lucianne said, taking the seat Belgina had left.

“Don’t just stand there, Samuel. Sit down,” Angie said, pointing at the seat in front of her, but Samael seemed distracted.

“…Oh, right,” he finally said, shaking his head lightly and sitting next to Vicky, glancing at Addalynn, completely oblivious of her surroundings.

“This is Vicky, she’s a good friend of mine,” continued Angie and the girl showed a huge smile beside him.

“…Oh, yes. I remember you,” he replied, smiling back. As impossible as it seemed, Vicky’s smile grew even bigger and let out a giggle that sounded like a soft tinkling. Angie looked from one to the other at a loss.

“Did you already know each other?”

“We met yesterday, when I went for Marianne,” Samael explained while Vicky kept a wide smile on her face and Angie twitched a little.

Lucianne awkwardly watched the three of them, like caught in the middle of a bad school drama.

“Okay… It may be a good time for someone to come and ask for our orders,” she said, scanning the place to see if anyone was around and noticed that Lilith was beckoning her from across the place. “…Excuse me, be right back.”

She practically had to jump over Angie to get out of there since she seemed too busy staring at Samael and Vicky.

“Would you like to see a magic trick?” Vicky suddenly said out of nowhere.

“What is it?” Lucianne asked approaching Lilith.

“Monkey is feeling ill again, he’s not fully recovered yet,” Lilith explained. “Could you help him a little?”

“Again? I have no problem doing it sporadically, but I hope this doesn’t become an everyday thing. I have homework and school too.”

“It will be just for today; tomorrow he’ll be as good as new.”

“You could have just come to our table, you know?”

“Yes… it’s just… that there’s a lot of work and…. uh… I wanted to be alert…”

“…Are you still trying to avoid Vicky?”

Lilith looked around as if searching for some excuse, and only mumbled something unintelligible, so Lucianne just shook her head.

“Don’t even bother with an excuse. I won’t act as the voice of your conscience. I just hope you have a good reason to behave like that.”

That said, she walked into the kitchen to help Mankee as promised, leaving Lilith feeling horrible.

“Ta-dah! Vicky said at the end of her little trick in which she had given Samael a coin to hide in his closed hand and now she made it dance in her fingers. He opened his hand and saw that the coin wasn’t there anymore.

“Wow! How did you do it?” he asked in awe, opening and closing his hand as if expecting to feel the outline of an invisible coin.

“The secrets of magic should never be revealed,” she said with a proud smile as she kept back the coin and Angie just played with a napkin, staring at them.

“It must be some powerful magic,” Samael said, still trying to figure out the trick, and Vicky let out a sweet mellow giggle, shortly interrupted by a text message.

She watched the screen and, after reading the message, she scowled and glared at Addalynn, who was still pinned to her device

Samael couldn’t help but turn around with an unexplainable interest in that girl. As if there was some kind of magnetic field around her pulling him in, yet surrounded by another layer preventing him from going through.

“You have a phone, Samuel?” Vicky asked with her thumbs ready to type. Samael turned clueless at her and she pointed at her cell. “Your phone number.”

“…Oh, yeah, sure! Hmmm…. I think it must be here somewhere…” he said, going through his own contact list.

“If you don’t know it, maybe Angie can give it to me.”

Angie flinched as she heard her name and noticed Vicky looking eager at her. She suddenly felt ashamed for having thoughts of saying she hadn’t taken her cellphone. She couldn’t let the monster of jealousy in.

“Here you go,” she finally replied, showing his contact on the screen.

“Great! Are you busy this Saturday, Samuel? It’s my birthday! You should come to my house! There will be plenty of food and I have some games planned. It’ll be fun!

“Sounds like it. I guess I’ll be there.”

“Cool! I can’t wait. What is it, Angie? Why are you making that face?”

Angie realized they were now staring at her, intrigued by her expression. As much as she was trying to hide what she felt at the moment, it was impossible. It had always been like that. Her emotions would always end up overcoming her, taking control. She needed to put some distance before it would become obvious.

“…I’ll be right back. Excuse me,” she left the table and Vicky merely shrugged confused at Samael.

Angie stopped at the counter and leaned on it while conducting a series of breaths to restore her calm and keep her heart rate within the normal range.

“What are you doing?” Lilith asked, laying a tray beside her.

“I just… needed a break.”

Lilith glanced towards the table where Vicky was talking cheerfully to Samael, perhaps telling one of her London adventures or showing some other trick she had up her sleeve.

“…Well, so what? Are you going to back off just like that because she’s also interested?” Lilith replied, taking a few glasses from the counter and starting to fill them with ice and soda. “You like Samuel, right? The way I see it, you two have the same chance with him, anyway, since he doesn’t show interest in anyone in particular, excluding Marianne for obvious reasons.”

“…Gee, thanks, Lilith. You’re always so brutally honest,” Angie said after her incisive comment and she shrugged.

“Just saying. He’s an angel after all, who knows if he’s even able to harbor such feelings, you should be aware of that. Hence, you have the same chance as her and even the girls from table seven, always demanding him to be the one to take their orders even when he doesn’t work here anymore or they threaten to leave no tip. So, would you be so kind as to go and ask him to do this favor for me, please?” Lilith said after placing the drinks in the tray and giving Angie her most pleading look.

On table seven, a group of four middle school girls stared at them with narrow eyes and murderous looks. The only thing missing was them making the sign of a sliced throat with their thumbs. Lilith forced a smile and waved slightly to let them know everything was fine.

“…Seriously, you have no idea how awful those girls have been ever since Samuel doesn’t work here anymore. It’s like they can’t go and talk to him themselves. Like it’s my fault that he no longer works here. They’re cruel, mean spirited and not even fourteen. They’re monsters, Angie. Monsters! They want to destroy me, and I won’t allow it.”

“Uhm… I’ll go tell Samuel that you need a favor.”

Angie decided to return to the table before Lilith’s paranoia also got to her.

“Can you believe it? He says he’s never been to the movies,” Vicky said amid giggles as Angie sat back in front of them. “Why, under what rock have you been hiding all this time? You definitely have to go one of these days. Maybe we should… as a group, of course, not that we should go alone like a date or something like that. I mean, we just met, am I right?”

She let out a nervous laugh, thinking that she had ruined their perfect casual conversation even though Samael didn’t seem to catch the meaning of it.

“That’s a good idea. Maybe we should go one day; as a group that is,” Angie said to help Vicky out and she smiled gratefully. “…By the way, Lilith needs your help.”

Lilith was waiting near the counter, avoiding table seven, doing her best not to curse them with an evil eye.

“I’ll go see what she wants,” Samael announced before leaving the table. Vicky then seized the moment to heave a sigh of relief.

“Thanks! I never know when to shut up.”

“Seems like… Samuel made quite an impression on you,” Angie said, trying to keep her hands on the table, though she didn’t stop squeezing them. Vicky let out a giggle and immediately tried to contain it, taking both hands to her mouth.

“Tell me, you know him better; he must have a flaw or something. He’s just too perfect to be true.”

Angie kept sinking into her seat as she confirmed that her suspicion wasn’t unfounded.

“…Perhaps his only fault is being so unattainable,” Angie answered, more to herself, which caught Vicky’s attention, but before she could say anything, another alarm rang on her phone. She saw the screen and pouted again at Addalynn.

“I’m right here, you could talk to me directly, you know?”

Addalynn pulled her phone down and gave a short, sullen look at her.

“I’m tired. I want to go home.”

“Well, we can’t go until my brother’s out of school. We’ll just have to wait.” It took her longer to say this than Demian to appear at the door. “…We’re here!”

Addalynn didn’t wait for him to approach, just stood up and walked briskly towards the exit; almost every male client stopped whatever they were doing just to contemplate her as if she were the most spectacular sight they had ever seen in their lives. But to her it was like they didn’t even exist. She only glanced briefly at Samael while walking next to the table he was serving at Lilith’s request. He followed her with his gaze, not with bordering devotion like the rest of the guys, but with intrigue.

“About time,” she commented, walking past Demian, and he glanced at her, confused.

“It’s not fair. I wanted to stay a little longer!” Vicky grumbled as she walked beside Demian.

He turned puzzled at her, then ran his gaze throughout the place, as if looking for something.

“Marianne didn’t come,” Lilith said, writing down an order in her notepad. “Her mom dragged her somewhere to eat or something.”

“I wasn’t…” he tried to clarify, but she just looked up with a twisted eyebrow and a smirk. “…I wasn’t looking for her, okay? I was just…. making sure everything was okay.”

“Of course,” Lilith replied with a condescending smile. “I’m sure that’s it.”

Demian snorted, aware that it would be pointless to discuss it with her and just follow his sister while Lilith kept her amused smile.

“…They gave me this.” Samael gave her the tip he had received from from table seven.

“Oh, thank you, Samuel! You’re an angel!” she exclaimed, counting the money, and taking out a paper note from it. “I’m sure this is for you.”

Samael took the piece of paper and headed back to their table while reading the content.

“I don’t get it. They left me their numbers, why would they want me to call them? What do these x’s mean, anyway?”

“The x’s mean kisses,” Angie replied once he showed her the note.

“Why not just write it? What am I supposed to do now? Should I call them?”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want.”

“I don’t know, your human customs are still an enigma to me. I don’t even know when I should or shouldn’t do things I’m asked to. The only thing that’s clear to me is to refuse every time Mitchell asks me to use my powers to his benefit.”

Angie kept quiet while Lilith’s words kept roaming in her mind about anyone having equal chance with him. It was kind of frustrating. She wanted to believe that at least he would regard her in higher esteem above those he barely knew, but she couldn’t deceive herself, it wasn’t just esteem what she longed for, as much as she tried to convince herself that having him around was enough. But it really wasn’t. Maybe it was time to be more proactive.

“What did you think of Vicky?”

“She’s very nice,” he replied with a smile as he typed something on his cell, holding the note he had received.

“Enough to like her?”

“Sure, why not?”

“I don’t mean the way you like everybody, but the way those girls like you,” she replied, pointing at the paper he was holding.

He looked at the note and then back at her with a confused expression. His eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted a little.

“…I don’t see the difference.”

Angie sighed with resignation and leaned on the back of her seat. It was already difficult trying to be more direct about her feelings. What else could she do when he wasn’t even able to differentiate them, or least of all, reciprocate them?

If only there was a way he could feel it too, she thought. The way she felt about him. And then remembered that it was possible. She carefully looked at her hands, her fingers slightly stirring. She had done it once, not to make him ‘feel’ per se, but she had gotten some information without him even realizing it. Maybe she could get him to feel something if she tried again.

She looked back at Samael, who was focused on his screen, and started fiddling with her hands while slowly sliding them across the table. One touch was enough, he wouldn’t find out. She only had to reach out and hold his bare skin.

“Oh, they answered,” Samael said, and Angie stopped. “What does ‘xoxo’ means?”

Angie sighed and then slipped her arms back to her body, letting out a short laugh; sadness and self-pity taking over her. She couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be fair to him and wouldn’t be real either. What was she thinking? Perhaps her own hopelessness had acted as a catalyst, but it would be better to bury the idea in the depths of her broken heart. She couldn’t play with a power she hadn’t fully understood and couldn’t even control yet.

Marianne felt like time had slowed down once she climbed into the front seat of her mother’s car. She could almost swear that even their movements and words were in slow motion. They had been already like an hour or so trying to find the macrobiotic restaurant her mother had seen in one of those monthly magazines they received at home. They had been going around the same corner about three times now, and as much as they took the road and turned to the right, just like it said in the magazine, they ended up driving in front of the same veterinary with the image of a dog, a cat and a hamster hugging each other like a big family.

“It may not even exist,” Marianne said, looking away from the vet.

“Of course it exists. I’ve been there a couple of times with my colleagues at school. But I wasn’t driving, and I need a guiding point, that’s all,” her mother said, starting to lose patience. “We’ll find the place and you’re gonna love it.”

“Or maybe we should change plans and find another restaurant…”

“You’ll love it, I said!”

Marianne snorted and rested her chin on her hand wearily. On the back of the car, Loui was typing something in his cell while their mother looked askance through the rearview mirror.

“…What are you doing back there? You’re very quiet.”

“I’m just telling dad where we are, so he won’t worry.”

“Don’t you dare to tell him where we’re going, okay?!”

“Oops! Too late,” he said, pressing ‘send’ and smiling mischievously into the mirror.

“Loui, it isn’t funny at all!” their mother grumbled, tightening the steering wheel, and turning her face back with a glare.

“Watch the road!” Marianne forced her to look back to prevent her from crashing with another car. She managed to dodge in time and kept driving down the same avenue they had passed so many times before. “We should just go home and eat there; if you want macrobiotic food, we could just eat cereal.”

“Or we can go back and have lunch with dad as we previously agreed with him,” Loui said, still fixed on his phone.

“If both of you wanted so much to go eat with your father, you should have told me and saved us all of this odyssey and my efforts to make the transition easier!” she said with growing exasperation.

“We told you, but you just did what you wanted!”

“…What do you mean by transition?” Marianne asked, turning to her with alert eyes.

Their parents’ separation wasn’t a new thing, anyway; that was the reason they had moved to this town in the first place; but of course, then her mother’s gift was stolen, and her father had to take her place while she was in the hospital. Since she came back, they had been living under the same roof again despite sleeping in different rooms. The new separation felt exactly like the first one, except that now there was no other city in between, so she didn’t understand what else she’d want to make easier to them.

“…Your father and I are getting a divorce.”

Dead silence. Loui looked up from his phone and now watched her with a veiled expression and wide unblinking eyes. Marianne seemed unfazed, frozen in time. So that was it. That was why she had been acting so aggressive. Her father must have requested it, no doubt about it. That was the reason behind her mother’s bitterness.

Marianne suddenly felt her head spinning. It wasn’t so different from a separation; then why did she feel that way? She looked back at the front and suddenly saw the silhouette of a shadow passing in front of the car.

“…Look out!” Marianne grabbed the steering wheel to make it turn, briefly struggling with her mother until they ended up crashing into a tree, the air bag immediately activating.

“…Is everyone okay?!” Enid asked as she managed to remove the airbag from her face.

“All right back here,” Loui said, removing his belt to pick up his cell from the floor.

The woman sighed with relief and then turned to Marianne. She was swaying her head in a daze, holding her belt.

“What the hell were you thinking?! Someone could have got hurt!”

“Someone walked in front of the car,” she replied, raising her hands to her temples.

“There was no one! Now I’ve crashed my car and I don’t even have insurance! Do you have any idea how much it will cost?!”

“Smoke!” Loui warned them, pointing to the hood of the car, crushed and nearly in half against a pole. A plume of smoke was starting to come out of it.

“Out! Everyone out!” their mother yelled, struggling to push the airbag aside so she could remove her safety belt.

It took them a matter of seconds to get out of the car and quickly step aside while the people gathered to watch, as if waiting for the car to burst into flames. But it didn’t. It just stayed stamped against the post with the smoke coming out of the hood split in half.

The police soon arrived to take statements while a truck was sent to pick up the car and the three of them ended up sitting on the sidewalk, watching the car being removed from the post while the car hood was falling apart on the road.

Marianne watched everything, convinced that she had really seen something, she couldn’t have just imagined it. Her phone rang with a small ‘beep’ and when she opened the text, she saw it was from Samael asking if everything was okay. While she was replying, her mother kept looking at the car being pulled off the post and, at the same time, another car parked near them.

“Are you all okay?” Noah went out the car looking worried.

“What are you doing here?” Enid asked, immediately getting defensive.

“Loui told me where you were,” he answered, and Loui just smiled and showed his phone upon his mother’s stern gaze. He had been texting with his father the whole time. “…It doesn’t look good. You were lucky to come out unscathed.” Enid just snorted in response and continued watching her car being dragged out, leaving small loose pieces on the road. “I think you need a ride. And I suppose you haven’t eaten either. Come on, food’s on me this time.”

Marianne and Loui glanced at their mother, waiting for her reaction, but she only pouted as a little girl, and Loui ran to his father, who was still waiting for her decision. Finally, Enid rose with dignity and walked towards him without a word, going past him and slamming the door once inside the car. Noah sighed and looked at Marianne now, still sitting on the sidewalk with her chin on her knees.

“Are you coming?”

He said it with his usual gentle tone and a warm smile on his face. With that same face he had filed for divorce, she thought. She glanced again at the point where the car had crashed; only the chipped post and pieces of metal scattered on the floor were left. She got up at last and headed towards him, getting on the backseat beside Loui and looking back at that same place. She could have sworn she saw someone crossing in front of the car. Maybe she had really imagined it after all. Her head was killing her, which might as well be because of the impact, except that her temples were throbbing even before that. Right before seeing that that vaguely familiar silhouette in front of the car.