The First Time
My blood runs cold. “Brian McKain,” I find myself repeating the name, growing hysterical. “He can’t be. That’s Esmera’s dad.” I stand up from the bed and move toward the door, prepared to confront my friend about her father, then think better of it and sit down on the bed again.
Reid’s hand covers mine, the pressure causing me to look at him. “Silvanna is co-leader.”
I wheeze, trying to breathe normally. “Esmera can’t be an assassin,” I cry at last, slightly too loud.
Reid shakes his head. “I don’t know that she is. She could have been born without the abilities.”
I shake my head in disbelief. “This explains so much,” I murmur. “She has always been able to match me in everything we do. She’s graceful and silent and just like us. Now that you’ve told me, I can’t imagine her being anything but a full-fledged assassin.”
Reid suddenly shakes his head, violently as though trying not to allow my words into his mind. “She can’t be. She has to be normal. If she’s an assassin, I’m betraying my father by dating her.”
“And I’m betraying your father by being her best friend,” I add. “But just because she’s part of the CAA doesn’t mean she’s bad. I mean, just because we are part of the BAA doesn’t mean we are bad.”
Reid’s expression displays every emotion playing in his mind. His eyes look scared and lost, his mouth set in a stubborn line: all signs of denial. He doesn’t want to accept it. “She can’t be,” his words sound more like a question or a plea than a definite statement.
I lean my shoulder against his, the closest I have gotten to giving him a hug since I saw him again. “Maybe we’re wrong.”
Reid’s heart is beating fast; I can hear it as though my ear is pressed against his chest. He takes a deep breath. “I don’t want her to be.”
I sit up straight and look straight at him. Instead of seeing the enemy I had made him into, I see the boy I used to know as a child. I see the friend I miss and the brother I wish I still had. “You really like her, don’t you?”
Reid nods with a grimace. “I haven’t met anyone else like her. She’s…an assassin. I’ve fallen for a rival assassin.”
I cannot help grinning at his words. He said fallen for without even thinking. “Kind of a twisted Romeo and Juliet thing, isn’t it?”
The corner of the boy’s mouth quirks upward. “A little.”
“Gen?” I hear Katherine call my name. She sounds as though she is on the other side of the door.
Reid’s eyes become frantic and he looks helplessly at me. “She can’t know any of this,” he whispers. "I'm not allowed to tell anyone."
I nod. Looking around, my eyes find the window and I reach for the knob to open it. Reid pulls the screen out, resting it against the wall. “Go,” I hiss at him.
He swings a leg over the edge of the window and glances down the two story distance. “Small drop,” he observes.
I bite my lip, the words I used to say to him all the time coming back to my lips. “You’re an assassin. You’ll survive.”
Reid grins. He turns away to jump but at the last moment, grabs my shoulder. “Are we okay?”
I hesitate. “We will need to talk again another time,” then I nod cautiously, “but yeah, I think so.”
His face breaks into a smile. "I missed you."
"I missed you too," I say almost silently.
Then he jumps out the window. I watch him land in a crouch and begin to run before replacing the screen and closing the window.
I put my phone to my ear as I open the door, pretending to hang up just as Katherine turns to look at me. “Sorry,” I say with a small grin. “I had to take that.”
“Who was it?” My sister asks tiredly.
“Reid,” I admit.
Her eyes widen and she lifts an eyebrow. “What did he say?”
“We talked for a bit. He explained some things.”
“Are you two okay? Can I be friends with him again too?”
I smile and look past her at the window in my bedroom. Out of it, I can just barely see a figure jogging past the last house on the block. “Yeah. We’re okay.”
Katherine smiles and loops her arm through mine, leading me back to my bedroom. “Good.”
The rest of January goes by fast. Reid and I go on more dates, seeing each other almost every night after school, or on the weekends for the afternoon. I had to bail on him twice for missions, but he seemed to understand and was happy to reschedule. I struggle on each of those missions, sometimes beating the saboteur and other times not. I have bruises to prove that it is beginning to get more competitive as I fall from trees, get hit to the side, and nearly get run over by my opponent’s escape vehicle. Nevertheless, I feel as though the BAA agent is getting a little softer in his attempts to beat me to the target.
Reid and Genevieve started hanging out again. She joined us after school three days in a row, then seemed to think we wanted our time to ourselves and winked at me every time we parted ways at four o’clock. He still hasn’t kissed me yet. Somehow I can feel him holding out, almost as if he is waiting for something. We have gotten close a few times but he always pulled away at the last second. I try not to take it personally…
However, Reid kissing me has been less of a concern as I have gotten busy planning Genevieve’s eighteenth birthday party with her. She wants to go on a double date the night before, and have a party on Saturday, her actual birthday, with some of our classmates at my house since I have a pool inside.
Thursday night I had a huge mission, however. I crouch in a tree waiting above the road, my legs screaming from balancing myself on the branch. It is a last minute mission, one that was not supposed to be necessary.
Rupert Alloes, a small, seemingly insignificant man living in town, watched a CAA agent kill someone moments before now. My mother sent me out only a half hour ago and had me position myself in the path Rupert will be taking to get to the police station. I am to hit him in the back with a dissolving dart in the middle of the street. His death will be ruled natural and no one will consider murder.
Just as I think this, I hear the pounding footsteps and wheezing breath in the distance. He is still a few blocks away, but the heightened senses I have allow me to hear him from my position high in the tree. I place a dart into position and nervously glance around the trees in search of my saboteur.
The night after my first date with Reid, the agent knocked me unconscious and laid me under a tree before I could complete my mission. I feel the sharp pain in my calf at the memory of the dart left there. When I awoke, a note was left under my hand. It mocked my failed mission and told me to go to Brian McKain, my father, and tell him I failed my mission. At first, I was worried that my identity had been uncovered but my mask was still fastened tightly and my hair was not too out of position, which was a relief since I hadbeen struggling with it all night. The dart had given the BAA agent only ten minutes to complete the mission and disappear before I came to. Evidently, the agent escaped prior to my waking, for I saw nothing but the cold, still evening. When I looked into the target’s window, Mrs. Evans was already dead.
I went home that night and admitted to my mother that the enemy agent had beaten me again. She seemed flustered, and immediately called my father, who then ordered all of his senior agents to a meeting. Now, all of the agents have been notified of the sabotage and have been ordered to undertake more training in order to outsmart and out-skill the BAA. Even I had to endure more training late at night so that I could complete my missions without interruption.
The training proved ineffective, however. The BAA had still beaten the CAA on multiple occasions, obviously having more than one saboteur. Whatever the BAA was doing, they seemed to be succeeding in at least pissing my father off. I know he will retaliate soon, though I do not know how.
Rupert appears, jarring me out of my thoughts. He runs awkwardly and seems to be nearly out of breath. I ready my shooter and aim at the point between his shoulder blades as the little man runs toward me. The needle-like dart makes no sound as it shoots through the air and pierces the skin before disappearing without a trace. Rupert falls and does not rise, his hands splayed on the road and his face turned slightly to the side.
I carefully climb down the tree and disappear into the brush, my feet making no sound on the ice. I hurry back toward my harley, sitting silently on a back path.
A dark shape swings above my head, just within my line of sight and I feel an immense surge of satisfaction that I reached my target before the BAA agent did.
I wait a few more minutes before removing my mask. After removing my agent gear, I swing a leg over my bike and push off, following the bumpy road silently until I reach solid pavement. Somehow, I find myself on the highway out of Elders. The road weaves left and right as it follows the curve of the mountains. My braid is whipped out of the collar of the pinned coil on the back of my head, sailing along behind me in the breeze created by my velocity.
I click a small button on the underside of my seat to turn off the silencer on my bike. The motor is suddenly deafening on the empty highway and I smile at the roaring sound of the engine and pick up speed. The corners grow sharper as I ascend the mountainside and weave more. I careen around each corner, feeling absolutely free out on the open road.
My phone vibrates in my pocket, pressed against my hip by the skin-tight leggings and shirt I wear under my agent gear. I pull over onto a gravel road to see who texted me. I see a short text from Genevieve asking me to meet her at her house ASAP. I bite my lip and rev my engine, briefly debating whether to text back that I am too busy. I look out at the road, the black ribbon stretching around the next bend and over a rise.
Sighing in defeat, I turn around and head back to town. I arrive at my friend’s house in twenty minutes, after stopping at my own house to change into normal clothes and re braiding my hair. Without knocking, I enter the DeVall’s home. I wave hello to Kat sitting in the living room and bound up the stairs to her sister’s room.
“Your subject arrives, your majesty,” I call, flinging open the door.
My jaw drops in shock when I see Genevieve jump away from her boyfriend. Their cheeks are flushed and lips are swollen. Nickolae leans over his girlfriend and tugs her shirt back down over her jeans. I spot a man’s belt on the floor at the foot of the bed and neither of them are wearing socks. Obviously I just interrupted a very intimate moment.
“I wasn’t expecting you,” Genevieve says breathlessly. I pretend not to notice as she fastens the button on her jeans.
“You texted me to come over,” I tell her, leaning casually against the door frame.
“Oh,” Genevieve’s expression is blank for a moment as she picks up her phone to verify my statement. “Right. Uh, I guess I forgot and got a little distracted…”
“Anyway,” I sigh, rocking back on my heels. “I guess I’ll leave you to… whatever you were about to do…”
“No,” my friend says quickly. She glances between Nickolae and I. “I mean, uh, I did want you to come over. We were, uh, going to talk about the details of the pool party on Saturday.”
“Well in that case,” I playfully skip forward and wedge myself between the two of them, wrapping my arms around their shoulders and making the embrace purposely uncomfortable. “Let’s get started, besties!”
I roll over and rub my eyes, blinking at the light streaming through the bay window. My room doesn’t have a bay window though. I frown around at my surroundings trying to figure out where I am. I feel movement under my arm and hear a female sigh. It takes me a moment to realize that Esmera is lying under my arm, her nose against my chest, breathing softly in her sleep. I brush a soft kiss over her cheek.
A cry from near the window alerts me to another body in the room. An infant, about three months old lays in a crib flooded in sunlight. Sliding out of bed, I near the side of the cradle and pick the dark haired baby up, rocking it slightly.
"Good morning," Esmera sighs from the bed. She opens her arms for the baby and I carefully lay the small creature in her arms. "Iris woke up hungry," she observes.
I nod and sit down beside them as the baby begins nursing.
A loud noise wakes me up and it takes me a moment to realize my alarm is going off. I am back home in my room and no one else is in the room.
I think about the dream and find myself smiling. I had a baby girl... and I was married to Esmera.
After showering and packing a bag, I head to Esmera's house to help set up. Genevieve, having spent the night, is already there.
“Happy Birthday,” I grin at her. “You’re officially eighteen.”
She shakes her head with a light laugh. “Not until eleven thirty two this morning. It’s only eight fifteen.” She pushes tilts her head to see if the birthday banner is straight. “Lift the left side a little. Perfect.”
“Well then,” I chuckle, “I guess you still have a few more hours of being a child.”
Esmera jumps off the ladder and wraps her arms around me. "I'll go get the balloons and we can start blowing them all up. Will you get the helium from the garage?"
"I'll come help you bring it in," Genevieve offers. "It's heavy."
Esmera smiles and disappears upstairs, presumably to her room.
“I got to thinking,” Genevieve says quietly after a moment, “if Mrs. McKain is the leader of the CAA, and she hasn't told Esmera who you are, then she might not be one.”
I frown at her for a moment. I know that Silvanna McKain married into the leadership and that her entire family has full blood assassins, but I never thought about the fact that a full blood could possibly have kept a mortal child. The charmed blood likely is just as genetic as the blood in the BAA is; we are of the same race. But I've heard stories of children being put up for adoption because they were mortal.
I close my eyes and groan. “Why would Assassins keep a mortal baby though?”
Genevieve bites her lip. "I hadn't thought of that. This life - even just knowing about it - is dangerous for a mortal."
"When did everything get so complicated?"
“When you arrived,” Gen murmurs. “Before you came I didn’t know anything about the CAA, or the leaders besides the fact that they exist in this country.”
I do not know what to say.
Esmera has the balloons waiting in the living room by the time Genevieve and I have hauled in the tank. Halfway through blowing them up, Nickolae arrives to help and soon the preparations are finished.
In contrast to the house I just moved into, Esmera’s is huge. Decorated in stainless steel and hardwood, the kitchen is large enough for two industrial sized ovens, a super deep two door fridge, a stand up freezer beside it, and cupboard space large enough to store food for practically the whole town, not to mention the other cupboards full of dishes.
Adjoining the kitchen is a dining room with a glass table for twelve, and a piano in the corner beside a large window decorated with spruce green curtains. To the other side of the piano, french doors open up to a large patio with a giant barbecue and a fire pit.
A small half bathroom is hidden under the stairs in the hallway. Across from the kitchen, a living room the size of a ballroom holds a number of sleek couches and matching chairs. A plasma TV is mounted to the wall with surround sound and a gaming system. A huge bookshelf lines one wall. Windows line the outer edge of the room with heavy drapes that can be closed to provide a movie theater type darkness.
Next to the living room is the largest part of the house: an olympic sized pool complete with a slide, a diving board, and a hot tub. In the summer, huge windows can be opened to let the air in, and sealed in the winter to keep it completely warm. Four showers line the wall beside the door, and eight small curtained stalls beside those allow for privacy while changing.
The four of us change into our swimsuits and set up a table full of finger food for the guests. Esmera tells us that a two layer chocolate cake is waiting in the fridge in the kitchen for this afternoon.
It takes only half an hour for the party to get started. Guests begin arriving soon after ten o’clock bringing all sorts of food and drink and we need to set up a second, and then a third and fourth table.
My eyes scan the room from where I sit with my legs in the hot tub beside Esmera. I see Nickolae throwing Katherine into the pool, her friends surrounding him awaiting their turns. People from the local school ranging from grade seven to twelve mingle and splash in the pool. The number of bodies is almost overwhelming, all moving at once. The warmth in the room has risen at least twenty degrees since everyone arrived.
I look at the large digital clock on the wall: eleven twenty nine. I nudge Esmera with my knee and she smiles up at me. “It’s almost time to grab her,” I grin and nod toward where Genevieve is laughing at the foot of the slide, having just shot out the end.
Esmera follows my gaze and giggles, pushing herself out of the water to sit down beside me on the edge of the hot tub. She leans her head on my shoulder, dripping hot water down my bare arm. “She looks so happy.”
I nod. “It was a really good idea to have such a big gathering for her.”
Esmera makes a noise of agreement and her eyes move back to the clock on the wall: eleven thirty one. “One more minute,” she whispers.
We start out of the tub and across the deck to the main pool. Nickolae catches my eye and begins moving toward Genevieve as well. Katherine follows with her entourage of friends in her wake.
We surround Genevieve quickly as the clock changes to eleven thirty two. "Happy Birthday!" We all cry and the rest of the room echoes us. We grab the giggling Genevieve and toss her in the air to splash in the water again. After eighteen tosses, she finally stops us, sputtering and laughing.
The cake is cut soon after and everyone eats so many snacks that almost none is left over. The day finally ends at five thirty when the last guest leaves.
"That was terrific!" Genevieve sighs, leaning against Nickolae and nibbling on Doritos.
"I agree," Esmera answers and hands me a Coke.
"How many presents did you get?" I ask.
"Too many," she answers. "I'll be re-gifting some."
"What about that one?" Nickolae points at the table of opened presents and we realize that there is an unopened one shoved deep under the table.
"Oh," she gasps, excited all over again. My friend jumps up and grabs the present. She pulls the envelope out and reads the message inside the card. "Isn't it funny how two enemies can get along so well?"
We all frown. "What enemies?" I ask.
Emsera grabs the bag. "Did Claire come?"
Genevieve shakes her head. "I never saw her. Plus, if she had, there would have been a bigger scene at some point."
"Is there a signature on the card?" I ask.
Genevieve shakes her head. "There's just the letter R at the bottom."
Emsera freezes and slowly takes the card from her friend. Her hands shake as she looks at the message again. Then she sees everyone looking at her and she shrugs casually, setting the card to the side. Despite her carefree manner, her hands still tremble but only I seem to notice.
"What's in the bag?" Nickolae asks.
Genevieve takes the gift bag and pulls the white paper off the top. She pauses before reaching inside and pulling out a black uniform. On it, a red CAA crest is emblazoned on the chest; this is a ceremony uniform for the coming of age of a CAA agent.
Everyone freezes and no one speaks. I exchange a glance with Genevieve and we glance at Esmera.
"What is it?" I ask numbly.
"It's a nice jacket," Genevieve says uncerrtainly.
Esmera nods in agreement and then stands to make a hasty exit. To my surprise, Nickolae jumps up to follow her.
"Okay," my friend says when they are gone, "something is very wrong. Who the hell is R?"
I stare at her and shake my head. "It could be anyone. But who would be able to get their hands on a CAA suit and know that you're a BAA?"
We sit in silence, letting the question hang in the air between us, ignoring the bigger question: Esmera obviously knew what it was, but how did Nickolae?