Pyro

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Chapter 25

Modern Day; March 1st; Cleveland, Ohio; Melissa

“I’m so excited to see Amber and Adam,” I said to Beth as we walked home from school together.

It was a sunny day and the snow was already mostly melted. As we walked, we could hear the dripping sounds of icicles melting.

“Me too,” said Beth. “I can’t believe it’s only been a week and one day since they left. It seems like ages.”

“I’ve lived with Amber for eighteen years and this is the first time she’s left town without me. We never did a whole lot of traveling, but I remember going to Connecticut once with her. That was a fun weekend.”

“Sounds like it. I think my birth parents took me to a couple museums when I was little, but I don’t remember.”

We walked up the driveway and as soon as we were inside the house, I dropped my bag to the floor and hollered, “Amber!”

“Melissa!” Amber came running out of the kitchen and scooped me into a hug. “I missed you so much. I’m so glad you’re alright.”

“Alright?” I cocked my head at her as she moved to hug Beth. “Why wouldn’t I be alright?”

Just then, Adam appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, but he didn’t look happy. Amber turned around and the two of them seemed to share a silent conversation before he spoke.

“We need to talk. This is going to be shocking to you. It was to me and your mother.”

I noticed that he was talking exclusively to me. He didn’t look at Beth at all as he spoke. My worry increased. What had I done this time?

“Adam, what is it?” Beth said, speaking my thoughts out loud.

I was so tempted to read Adam’s thoughts, but instead I took a seat in the living room. Amber joined me on the couch. Adam and Beth took armchairs.

“Did you… Have a nice honeymoon?” I asked.

It seemed like it was the wrong thing to say, since Amber’s immediate reaction was to put her head in her hands.

How could anyone have a bad time in Italy?

“It was fine, at first,” said Adam. “Exactly what you would expect. Good weather. Romantic. But then Lady Catherine showed up.”

“What?!” I moved up to sit on the very edge of the couch, staring at my father. “You’ve got to be kidding me! What happened? Are you guys okay? What happened?”

“Lady Cierra was right in her decision to station guards around the world. Lady Catherine seems to be on the move for some strange reason. All of Stefan’s instincts have been right so far, so I think we should be okay, but… We’re still in danger.”

“Did you guys fight? What happened?”

My heart was palpitating now. Lady Catherine was bad news. Whenever I thought of her, I thought of that night when I had seen her murder her own husband in cold blood.

“We had a conversation. Needless to say, it wasn’t civil. I’m not sure Lady Catherine even knows the meaning of civil. She seemed to be truly appalled that your mother and I are together, despite being different species. I don’t know why she has such a problem with it, but she does. She also claimed that… Well… That she was planning to kill you.”

“… Me?” I could barely breathe. What had I done? Lady Catherine and I had barely spoken to each other and the one conversation we’d had was very friendly. She had no reason to hate me. Unless… “Did she find out that I’m a half elf?”

“It seems like it.”

“But… How? I thought I was doing a good job of keeping it on the down low.”

“It’s not your fault that she found out, Sweetie,” said Amber. “You can’t blame yourself for what a lunatic is planning to do. She’s clearly insane, so I wouldn’t dwell on her decisions too much. She probably woke up one day and decided that it would be nice to murder an innocent teenage girl.”

“I’m an adult now…” I added randomly.

“The point here is that we need to keep you safe in the next few weeks. We don’t know how or when she will attack, but since she’s marked you as her next victim, I think we should take her seriously.”

“Oh, absolutely, we should!” Adam said.

“How are you guys planning to keep me safe?” I asked, afraid to hear the answer.

“Adam was telling me that he thinks it would be good for you to be with a guard at all times.”

“All times?! What about school? You can’t be expecting me to stay home from school because of this.”

“Of course not. While you’re at school, you should be safe with Willow and Cierra. Then we want them to walk you home. If Adam is not able to be here, one of the other guards will be.”

I smoothed my hands over my face. Unsurprisingly, I could feel a headache coming on. It was most definitely stress-related.

“This is a lot to take in. This is really the last thing I expected to happen.”

“That’s how everyone feels,” said Adam. “We’ve already alerted the other guards in the Underground, so they know your situation. Some of them had very emotional reactions when I told them. Everyone really loves you in Parcia, Melissa.”

“Stop it. You’re going to make me cry.”

Beth came over and hugged me. I closed my eyes and buried my head in her shoulder, breathing her scent in deeply.

“Everything is going to be alright,” Beth said. “Everything always turns out alright.”

It really meant a lot to hear this from someone who I knew had gone through a lot of shit. The fact that she was optimistic in this situation gave me hope. There was nothing to be afraid of. After all, who was Lady Catherine against three hundred guards of the Underground?

“You’re right,” I said as I pulled away. “So, tell us about the rest of your honeymoon. If you only spoke to Lady Catherine for a few minutes, the rest of it must’ve been good.”

Amber, having finally been given permission to talk nonstop, launched into the description of everything they had eaten while in Italy. Somehow, she recalled the minute details of every single meal they had eaten. She didn’t even get mixed up once. That’s how you could tell that she was a foodie.

When we had finished hearing about their week and the four of us had cheered up a bit, I made the excuse that I had a lot of homework to do. It wasn’t a lie, exactly. I did have an AP English test coming up that I needed to study for. Beth seemed grateful for a chance to escape, too, and she followed me up the stairs.

“This is some crazy stuff,” she said to me as we neared the top of the stairs.

“What is?”

“Parcia. Elves. Lords and ladies. Murder. I mean, you have to admit, this has been the weirdest year of both of our lives.”

“Yeah, that occurs to me about every day. And you know life will never be the same again. Neither of us will ever be normal.”

“Who cares about normal? Normal is boring.”

We stopped in the hallway outside our rooms.

“You’re awfully chipper today,” I said, raising my eyebrows at her. “What’s up?”

“Oh, nothing. I’m just randomly happy today. Haven’t you ever been randomly happy?”

“Beth. Is Felix coming over tonight?”

She rolled her eyes.

“Maybe. But those two things don’t necessarily have to be related!”

“Right, right. And when are the two of you getting married?”

“Shut the fuck up.”

I laughed and shut my bedroom door behind me. I spread out all my notes on my bed, putting things in chronological order according to how we went over them in class. Hamlet was first, then A Midsummer Night’s Dream

When everything was finally in order, I put my hands on my hips and gazed down lovingly at how organized everything was.

… And then I burst into tears.

They weren’t messy, sad tears that made me into a blubbering monster. They were tears of anger and frustration. Why couldn’t I have a simple life? Even as a half elf, that had to be possible. But no. I had to be the victim of an evil, murderous bitch. How was I supposed to get through AP exams when she was always on my mind? I didn’t ask to be different, but I was fine with it. Having a special ability wasn’t the worst thing in the world. But persecution for being different was. I wanted to punch something so badly, so I grabbed my pillow and pounded the hell out of it. As much as that was recommended in magazine articles, it didn’t bring me any release.

I laid down on the floor – because there was no room on my bed with all the papers spread out – and tried to focus on my breathing. In and out. In and out. Deep breaths. That actually helped a little. It was good to focus on something else.

I decided to man up, so I got up and started studying. I got so wrapped up in what I was doing that it was six thirty when I was finally distracted by Amber knocking at my bedroom door.

“Melissa? Are you alive in there?”

“That’s not a funny joke!” I hollered.

She opened the door, saying, “Oh, shoot! I didn’t mean it like that… I figured you might be drowning in schoolwork about now and that you might need some cheering up.”

“Boy, you know me.”

“In fact, I do. I brought you a cupcake. “

She revealed what she had been holding behind her back. It was a chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing and sprinkles – my favorite. I smiled at her. Only Amber could be in a crisis and still continue baking and cooking as much as before.

“Thanks, Amber. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She kissed me on the forehead and set the cupcake on my nightstand. “How’s it coming?”

“Pretty good. I’ve studied every subject for about thirty minutes each and have gotten all my assignments done.”

“You’re the most diligent person I know. I wish I could’ve been like you when I was in school. I probably would’ve done a lot better.”

“But you did great!”

“Not as great as I wanted… To be honest, I think your father had something to do with that. I spent a lot of time with him. Time I should’ve been using to study. But it all worked out in the end and I’m happy now, so that kind of thing doesn’t really matter anymore.”

“I don’t even know what I want to study in college…” I said, staring off into space.

That was a whole other black hole of thoughts that I didn’t want to get myself into. It would probably just make my head explode.

“You have plenty of time to discover that. That’s part of the fun of college: discovering yourself.”

“I used to be afraid of college because I knew I would have to leave you. But now I can come back as often as I want.” I grinned at her. “It’s funny how things work out sometimes.”

“That’s for sure. Well, I don’t want to distract you for too long. You’re busy doing important things. Getting straight A’s takes a lot of time and work, I know.”

“Absolutely.”

She hugged me and left the room. I was so thankful for Amber. She was my rock. No matter what happened, she was always there for me and she always knew what to do or say to make me feel better. The cupcake was delicious.

Three hours later, I felt like I was done for the night and my stomach was growling for one last meal before bed. The cupcake hadn’t done enough to sustain me, it turned out. I slumped down the stairs in my sweatpants and baggy long sleeved T-shirt, running my hands through my messy hair. It was almost time to go to sleep and I didn’t care what I looked like.

That’s why I was so surprised when I walked into the kitchen and saw Felix standing at the sink, drinking a cup of tea. He almost choked when I entered the room, but recovered enough to speak.

“Melissa! Hey! How are you doing?”

“Surprisingly okay for being under death threat,” I said. “How about yourself?”

Beth surfaced from the pantry with a bag of Oreos under one arm and a box of Chicken in a Biscuit crackers under the other. It seemed we’d had the same idea.

“He just worked a four hour shift and somehow he is still the one stuck on Melissa duty.”

“Melissa duty? Is that what we’re calling it now?” Felix shrugged. “Man, that’s really not fair. Four hours and now this? Dude, you can go home if you want. I’m just going to go to bed. I seriously doubt she’s going to try and kill me in my sleep.”

“I wouldn’t bet on it,” said Felix. “Not to be morbid, or anything. You just never know with Lady Catherine.”

“I’m really sorry about all of this,” Beth said.

“It’s really fine, guys. If I wasn’t in this situation, then that would mean that I would have different parents. And I don’t want different parents.”

Beth stared at me for a minute before holding out the box of crackers.

“Want some?”

“Yeah, sure.”

I grabbed a handful and savored each mouthful of pure sodium. Beth, Felix, and I nodded at each other as we silently indulged in our snacks. Beth reached into the bag of Oreos and, as she did so, the bag suddenly zoomed across the room to be snatched out of the air by Felix. We stared at him in shock before bursting out laughing. He didn’t use his abilities around us very often, so it could be easy to forget how special Felix really was. He cracked a smile and pulled out a couple Oreos for himself before tossing the bag back to Beth.

“Sorry. I couldn’t resist. It’s so much funnier than asking.”

“Oh, don’t apologize,” she said.

The two of them smiled at each other in such a way that I couldn’t help but smile too. Beth’s cheeks were getting pinker by the minute and Felix kept looking at the floor like there was something fascinating down there. Eventually, they would have to admit that they were in love with each other. It was just amusing watching them try to resist.

“Well… I’m off to bed,” I said.

“Good night!” they said at the same time.

I caught a glimpse of Beth’s face as I turned and she looked like she was panicking. Her face basically said, “No, Melissa! Don’t leave me alone with him!” I winked at her before going back upstairs.

As I laid in bed, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on downstairs and how awkward the situation was getting. It occurred to me that I could find out if I just read Beth’s mind. I had never read the mind of someone on a different floor than me – or even in a different room – and I was suddenly very curious.

I closed my eyes and focused with all my might with the part of my brain that I usually used to read minds. I searched, which took a lot more energy than I was used to using. I found myself gasping for breath when I finally found Beth’s mind.

Oh my God. He’s so cute. What do I say? What do I do? Oh God, he’s looking at me again. I love that stupid grin. Why do I love it so much? He’s just a person. What’s wrong with me? I bet I look really stupid right now, eating all this food. Maybe I should stop eating so much. That’s probably why he’s staring. I’m going to put everything away now. Pantry. Shelf. Felix. Smile. He’s still looking. Why? Is there something on my face? This is ridiculous. He needs to stop looking at me. What is he trying to accomplish by looking at me that way? Also, why is he still here? Melissa’s in bed. She’s safe with Adam in the house. Maybe… What if he’s here for me? What if he’s actually here for me? What do I do?

I smiled to myself. Things were delightfully awkward downstairs and it amused me to no end. I was probably going to be the maid of honor at their wedding, which made this all the more entertaining to witness.

But things couldn’t stay lighthearted for long. Just before I drifted off to sleep, my mind drifted to Lady Catherine once again and the memory of her cold, unfeeling eyes was the last thing I saw in my mind before I wandered into dreamland.

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