Modern Day; October 19th; Cleveland, Ohio; Melissa
I barely slept at all the next two nights. I tossed and turned, but all I could do was think about Lord Darylis’s face as his wife murdered him. It chilled my blood to think of that moment, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I worried that Amber would figure out something was wrong even though I had been convincing so far.
On Saturday night, I had come home to find her sitting on the couch in the living room and flipping through a cookbook. She told me she was trying to find new dishes that could possibly be added to the diner’s menu. She wanted to change things up, she had told me.
“Why are you home so early? It’s only eight thirty.”
I had sat down next to her and said, “It was a dud. The DJ sucked and all the people I hate were there. I had fun with Willow and Cierra getting ready beforehand, but the actual dance was really lame.”
“I’m sorry, Sweetie! You didn’t have to come home so soon, though. It would’ve been fine if he’d taken you out somewhere. I trust him.”
“Thanks, Amber, but I asked him to take me home. I have a lot of homework to do this weekend and, to be honest, I’m pretty tired.”
“That’s understandable. I remember what it was like to be a teenager and to have to juggle work, school, and my social life. And sometimes boys are just exhausting!”
We had both laughed, but inside it felt wrong to me. Amber had no idea what I’d been through and I didn’t want her to find out, so I tried not to think of what had occurred and tried to focus on the moment.
“Amen to that. Is it okay if I head upstairs now?”
“Of course! I’ll probably keep looking through this cookbook for the next five hours.”
“Gripping stuff,” I had said with a smirk.
She’d laughed then.
“Absolutely.” I’d gotten up and was just turning to leave when she had said, “You look beautiful, though.”
We had smiled at each other and then I went upstairs. My smile was gone by the time I reached the top step. I hurried into my room, closed the door behind me, and fell onto my bed just as the tears began to fall. I buried my face in my pillow and sobbed for what felt like forever. I cried until my face hurt and my head hurt from dehydration. Only then did I fall asleep, but it was only for a couple hours. After that bit of sleep, my nightmares woke me up and the first thing I thought of when I opened my open was Lady Catherine. I laid there for hours just thinking about the one conversation I had had with her. I hadn’t liked her at all when I first met her, but I didn’t have any idea then what she was capable of. That scared me. For all I knew, anyone else in Parcia could be just as untrustworthy.
When the sun had begun to rise on Sunday morning, I tugged my book bag onto the bed with me and began working on my homework. Amber brought me breakfast in bed because she felt bad about how much work I had to do. Then she had to go to work, which left me alone in the house to cry some more. Sunday was horrible.
And now it was Monday, a day I had been dreading. Not just because I had to turn in an essay, but because I had to leave my house and be around people, especially Willow and Cierra. I didn’t know how I’d react when I saw them for the first time since Saturday. I took a shower to try and relax myself and ease into the day, but all it did was agitate me further because the last time I had taken a shower was before I had gone to Parcia.
I opened the door to my house and Willow was standing there.
“Want me to walk you to school?”
I chewed the inside of my cheek nervously. Seeing him made me feel exactly how I had thought I would feel: relieved and devastated at the same time.
“I would love that.”
He nodded and took my hand. He looked just as sad as he had when I had last seen him, which worried me. It seemed he hadn’t had a good weekend either.
“How… How are you?” he asked as we began to walk.
“Exactly how you would expect. It wasn’t the best weekend.”
“It was probably the worst weekend.”
“That would be a good way to describe it. You can’t be doing much better than me.”
He shook his head.
“I haven’t slept at all since that night. It’s been hell in Parcia. They had a ceremony on Sunday to commemorate Cierra’s coronation. Everyone in the Underground seems pleased so far to have her as the new Leader, but I’m afraid for her. She’s so young. We’re just kids, Melissa. She doesn’t need this kind of responsibility right now. And on top of that, she’s getting married!”
“I know!” I put my face in my hands. “I can’t even believe that.”
Beth was running to catch up to us. She slowed to a stop beside me and smiled.
“Hey! How are you guys? Did you have a good weekend?”
I swallowed all of my emotions and said casually, “Eh, it was okay.”
“I had a lot of homework,” said Willow with a shrug.
“What about you, Beth?”
“I ended up going to the dance and Liza was there. My friend who was at the play with me? We’re friends again and she has a boyfriend now. The funny thing is that he asked me out in the beginning of the month. But she’s been madly in love with him for a while now, so she’s happy.”
“Ah, interesting,” Willow said, looking thoroughly disinterested.
I tried not to laugh when I saw his face. Right now, neither of us really wanted to talk to Beth – a person who had no knowledge of elves and didn’t have any idea of the kind of weekend we might really have had.
“I’m glad you ended up going to the dance,” I said. “I’ve never been to one.”
“You need to! They’re so much fun!”
I forced myself to smile at her and we walked on. She prattled on about what the dance was like and I pretended to listen until we reached the doors of the school.
“I’m sorry, Beth, but our homeroom’s this way. I’ll see you later, though.”
I gave a little wave and tried to ignore the fact that she looked sad that I had interrupted her. Willow and I walked up the stairs together.
“That was rough,” he said. “Are we going to have to talk to people all day?”
“Not necessarily. I hardly talked to anyone my first eleven years of school. I don’t count kindergarten because we were forced to talk then.”
“I should take a leaf out of your book and become more antisocial.”
“Yeah. It’ll do you good. I mean, look at how far I’ve come.”
I couldn’t keep myself distracted for long. By the time we reached homeroom, my smile was gone and my foul mood had returned. Every person we passed seemed to resemble Lady Catherine or Lord Darylis and I found myself doing double takes all day. I felt like I was losing my mind.
I was on my way to meet up with Cierra and Willow before lunch when Beth cornered me in the hallway.
“Hey. Can I talk to you for a sec?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
I let her pull me against some lockers so that we were out of people’s way for the most part.
“I was wondering if you’ve seen that guy Felix recently.”
“Yeah. I see him all the time. We’re friends. Why?”
“I haven’t seen him in a little while and I would like to. I don’t know why. He’s an interesting person, I guess. Is there any way you could get me into contact with him?”
“Probably. I could tell him you’re interested in meeting up.”
“No, don’t do that!”
I was enjoying making her sweat.
“Because then he’ll think I’m interested in him!”
“Well, you are, aren’t you?”
“No! He’s twenty-three years old! How many times do I have to tell you? I just want to hang out with him. He’s cool.”
“Oh, Beth.” I rolled my eyes at her. “I’m sure you’ll see him around.”
I walked away, no longer having the patience to deal with her. It’s not that I didn’t like Beth. It’s just that everything she wanted to talk about seemed so trivial to me now. After one sees death, it seems like the only thing one can think about.
I sat down with Cierra and Willow after getting my tray of food and observed their facial expressions. Willow was silent and only looked at me as I sat down, but that was what I expected from him. He still felt guilty for what I had seen. Cierra seemed distracted and frowned as she ate without speaking. I was used to being a quiet person, so I didn’t mind the silence. It was comforting to me like a home-cooked meal would be comforting to a starving orphan.
As we threw our trash away and put away our trays, I said to Cierra, “I’m really proud of you, by the way.”
She seemed surprised to hear it.
“For becoming the Leader of the Underground even though you have school and even though you’re still practically a kid.”
“Practically a kid? Did Willow say that?” She frowned at him over her shoulder and he shrugged. “He’s convinced that I’m growing up too fast.”
“We all are,” he said as he ran a hand through his hair. “I’m not ready to finish school yet. I think it’s weird that we’ve gotten so far already. It seems like yesterday that I was a little kid.”
“I guess that makes me a pedophile then,” I said.
They both stared at me for a minute and then all three of us burst out laughing. It was impossible to keep it inside. This time, the laughter wouldn’t stop even though it felt so wrong, considering the circumstances. We were practically falling over each other as we struggled to walk down the hall to our next class. Willow and I were gasping as we slid into our desks before Calculus class started. Mr. Krieger looked at us questioningly before starting his lecture.
I liked to watch Willow during Calculus. It wasn’t for the normal reasons – he was dreamy, he was my boyfriend, etc. – that a girl might stare at her guy during class. It was because of how easy everything was for him. He solved the sample problems in seconds and then pretended to take longer to work it out so that he wouldn’t call attention to himself. He was so good at solving problems that he had to pretend to mess up. He made me realize that it was an honor to have a special ability even though it made one different from other people. Because that thing about you that was special was something that other people would never know. I would never know what it was like to get every question right – although I came pretty close in most of my classes.
“I have a proposal for you,” he said to me as we were walking out of class together.
“You do, do you?”
“Yeah. Because we didn’t do anything special on your birthday and Saturday was supposed to be a fun night – which it obviously wasn’t. Do you want to get dinner with me sometime this week?”
I looked him in his dark eyes and had to smile as a lock of his hair fell in his face. I reached over and tucked it behind his ear.
“You really mean it?”
“Yeah! I’ll pay for everything. I mean, obviously, since it will be a date.”
I sighed melodramatically to make him laugh.
“Our second date!”
“You make it seem ridiculous because we’ve been together for about a month and this will only be our second.”
“I’m not complaining, Willow. This last month has been the best ever.”
“Except for –”
“Can we please not talk about that?” I said, because my stomach had clenched at the thought.
“Of course. I’m sorry.” He bowed his head. “Anyways, what day are you available?”
I thought about it for a minute, going through my personal calendar mentally.
“I work every night this week except Sunday.”
“That’s such a long time to wait!”
“Take it or leave it. It’s the best I can do.”
“I know. I’m just kidding. Sunday it is!”
“Excellent. I’ll see you later, okay?”
I kissed him and we went our separate ways. My next class was AP Stats and I understood most of what we were discussing in the lecture, so I didn’t pay attention at all. Instead, I thought about Willow as I mindlessly copied the notes from the board. I was just happy to have something to think about instead of what had happened on Saturday night.
Kissing him in the hallway had warmed my entire body and I was still a little excited from that. Willow had that kind of effect on me. I didn’t know if it was because of my fire ability or if people normally felt like this, but sometimes it felt like I was on fire when I was around him. It wasn’t just the fire between my legs, but it was like someone had taken a match to my skin. Ever since the other night when I had nearly gotten to second base with him, I had been thinking about him in that way even more. I didn’t want to go down that path with him yet, I knew. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it was just that I didn’t want to complicate things. I felt like I was still trying to figure out a lot of things in my life – what with two abilities and a little thing called college applications, I had my hands full. I really didn’t want to screw this up because Willow was really important to me.
I still really liked playing that memory over and over in my head, though…
“Oh my God!” I heard the girl sitting next to me yell.
I jolted out of my dirty thoughts and looked around to see that everyone was staring at me in alarm. Then I looked down and saw that my desk was on fire.
“I’ll get the fire extinguisher!” my teacher, Mrs. Jameson, said as she ran to the back of the room. “Melissa, get away from the desk!”
I jumped up and felt my face burning up – not literally, but with deepest embarrassment. My heart was beating fast with panic as I realized what was happening. I was having another episode, but this time I was in public and I was surrounded by my classmates. If this got any worse – and I knew that there was room for the situation to worsen – everyone would know that I wasn’t normal. And so I allowed the desk to burn without stopping it. It was almost impossible for me to avoid setting things on fire, but I was learning how to stop it once it had started.
I stood up against the wall and some of my classmates opened the windows. Mrs. Jameson sprayed my desk with the fire extinguisher and suddenly it was all over.
“I… I’m sorry! I was playing with my lighter and I guess I dropped it.”
“Well, keep your lighter in your backpack from now on! And don’t smoke, my dear! It’s terrible for your health.”
“I know. I’m trying to quit.”
While she got me a new desk, I marveled at how good a liar I was becoming. I really needed to figure this whole fire thing out. I didn’t want to see a second dead body.