“I've been having difficulties sleeping lately,” she answered sincerely.
"Oh my, is it because of work? If it's piling up I can come and help out. Luke too," he started, walking closer to her in his sporty attire.
“I’m going to work." When he didn't get any reaction in return he added, "I work as a dance instructor remember? At Henry's dance studio. D'you want to tag along?” he asked, his eyes brightening with excitement.
Zoe had two choices: stay at home and ponder on her life or avoid reality and go with him. She was definitely going with the second one.
“Zoe, are you uncomfortable taking the subway?"
“Can you help me?" That was the question Zoe detested with her entire being.
The woman moved even closer to Mark when the ghost took a step forward and reached towards her. Zoe closed her eyes and grasped his arm tightly, feeling the coldness of the dead.
“Are you sure you're alright? We can get out at the next station and walk from there."
Zoe opened one eye to check if the ghost was at least a few feet from her; luckily, every ghost seemed to have given up and left. Sighing in relief, Zoe let go of Mark and leaned back.
“I'm a bit claustrophobic and sometimes I get motion sickness. I'm fine now, it passed." She replied, looking like she was still awaiting something to pop up.
Zoe really wanted to say yes, but something was stopping her. The chances of her being the commander were still in sight and no matter how much she disliked the idea, Iaosur was very firm about her schedule. Besides, if the subway was teeming with ghosts, a pub was ten times worse. It was too big of a risk and too much of a burden.
“I can’t," she finally answered, "But I’m sure Ezekiel would like to go.”
Mark chuckled, a bit disappointed that she didn’t want to get involved into their group life.
“Then would you like to go out to a different place with me...?” Mark was trying his luck and he seriously hoped it was going to work.
“Actually—” She was interrupted by someone bumping into her.
“Idiot! Look what you’ve done!" Fairy Juliet moaned, flying on the seat next to Zoe.
Zoe was so close to Mark that she could practically see her reflection in his eyes. Zoe frowned when she felt a shudder down her spine and quickly leaned back, straightening her back in the seat and fidgeting nervously.
“But they look like Romeo and Juliet now! How romantic!” Fairy Romeo replied, swooning over the two humans.
The female fairy glared and pushed the male fairy harshly, making him trip and fall on his bottom.
“You’re an idiot. How can you do that when you-know-who's watching?"
The male fairy rolled his eyes and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“It’s not my fault that the number of admirers around her is increasing,” he mumbled, sulking like a child.
The two were having quite an intense argument, but Zoe couldn’t concentrate on what they were saying. Behind Mark was a demon that didn’t look very happy.
While Mehrdir was watching everything, she started to feel guilty. It was just like she was flirting with two guys at once and they had no idea that each other existed. It was really weird, because neither were her dates.
The rest of the way was awkward. Mark tried to liven up the mood and goof off, but she became very stiff. She couldn’t shrug the thought that she was playing two cards at once and it wasn’t even true, because she wasn’t.
“By the way, you never told us what happened in the forest,” Mark started suddenly, perplexing her.
Zoe forgot about it after she got welcomed into her own house by a stranger who became her trainer. She had worse things to think about than a possessed student in the forest.
“Nothing really happened. We didn’t find the lake.”
“Of course not. Gabe is the master of horror stories. He looks them up on Internet. Recently he found a story about the commander. He’s been talking about it a lot ever since he came back from the camp. The commander here, there, everywhere. He said he heard someone talk about it in the forest and he got curious.” The boy explained, regarding everything as a mere try to scare him off.
“Did he say who was talking about it?” Zoe asked, worried that Gabriel might have leftover memories from the unnamed demon.
“He doesn’t remember. Personally, I think getting interested in this kind of stuff is dangerous. It can swallow you whole.”
Zoe looked down at her feet, feeling quite shaken up by that comment, possibly because it came from a human.
"Anyway, I was walking home with Luke yesterday and-" Mark started to talk about something else and, luckily, he didn't notice how affected Zoe was.
But how could he? She looked completely normal. She had become too good at hiding her true self.
When they arrived at the studio, Zoe had to stop and register just what kind of place had the studio been built on. The building was studded with ghosts, but none were connected to the humans inside. They weren’t dangerous or mischievous but just dancing or watching other people dance.
“Zoe! You’re here!” Henry sounded too excited and he realised it fast. He coughed and lowered his voice before he repeated, “I mean, welcome.”
“I heard all good dancers come here so I wanted to see it with my own eyes.” Zoe repeated what Mark insinuated on the way.
Alice followed her boss out and glanced at Mark suspiciously. Students were waiting for him so he chuckled nervously, taking his leave with Henry following closely.
“Boys will always be boys. Always trying to impress the girl they like,” Alice commented when the guys got out of hearing range.
Zoe chuckled while watching the two boys channeling their energy into teaching children how to dance.
“I wish I could do that, too.” She was obviously not talking about dancing, but Alice didn’t know that.
Channeling your energy into something to make it stronger and better was probably her best shot. She didn’t know much about dark magic and the few things she knew were strictly for research but she was in need of more. Maybe it was time for her to break the rule. Maybe that was what everyone had been waiting for: a breakaway.
Henry and Mark proved to have stamina for the whole building, and not only because ghosts were swirling around them. They helped and taught a few children before they literally started to goof around, getting everyone around them involved. It was fun and it was Zoe’s first time in a lot of things. While she was messing around and being twirled by Alice, she completely lost her balance and fell backwards. Thankfully, there was one dancer who noticed and caught her in time.
He only blinked and helped her stand. She turned around to take a closer look at him and noticed just how toned he was for such a skinny young man. He was very tall, maybe as tall as Rowan which was well over average and but his face reminded him of Ezekiel's puppy-like features.
They continued to stare at each other and none really made a move to leave or speak.
“Do I know you?”
“Are you alive?” Zoe asked in turn, making him laugh.
His laugh was loud and it grabbed attention. It wasn’t just her friends—it was the whole studio, ghosts included. Zoe's eyes widened when she saw so many dead eyes turn towards her.
They started to walk towards her and form a circle. Each one of them had something they wanted. The voices were overwhelming and so was the spiritual energy. They were too many for her to handle at once.
For most humans in the room, the view was both weird and intriguing. Zoe was backing off into the mirror and she was getting really pale. Her hands started to tremble and she wasn’t breathing normally anymore.
“You are a demon, aren’t you? That demon.”
This wasn’t happening. Zoe shook her head and closed her eyes. She turned her back to the crowd and hit the mirror.
“Are you all right?”
Zoe flinched when she felt someone pat her shoulder. She opened her eyes and noticed she had become the centre of attention with her suspicious antics but the most important aspect was that the ghosts disappeared and she could breathe again. When she looked at her reflection, she blinked. It wasn’t her; it was Eneizar, and he didn’t look happy at all.
“Thank me later.” He winked and disappeared.
“I am now,” she responded to the human behind her.
“So you had a panic attack?”
That was the best lie she could come up with. It made perfect sense and the symptoms were pretty much the same.
“Are you all right now? Do you want water or something?”
Alice was a woman and had that motherly, overprotective side; actually, since they were the same age, she was seeing a good friend in Zoe.
“I’m fine. I have a few bad memories that suddenly surfaced, I guess. I got scared.” She smiled softly and wrapped an arm around Henry, who was sitting next to her. He was too busy being worried to blush. It didn’t seem like that was the reason she got scared. She was perfectly fine until she saw that guy.
“Are you sure it’s not Jake’s fault?” She tilted her head to the side and frowned. “You two were talking before you had the panic attack,” Henry continued, growing angry at the innocent dancer.
Henry nodded and pointed to where the tanned handsome boy was standing. He was there with two other guys, talking. He noticed them since it wasn’t just one or two; it was a whole group staring intensely at him. He said something to the others and got up.
“He’s coming over here. Don’t act stupid, guys.” Henry and Mark scoffed at Alice’s threat.
Andy’s sudden appearance behind her was not as surprising as it should have been. She had gotten used to the creeping and sneaking around but he was saying something very interesting.
“Hello. I’m sorry for what I said earlier and I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable.” Jake apologized. “I’m—”
“Jake. It’s him. He’s the guy I told you about; the contemporary dancer. My one sided crush.” Andy continued, surprising Zoe.
She wanted to know everything, but not from Andy because he had a tendency to overthink and over-analyse. Jake seemed to have gotten worried since her tone was very polite and she looked like she didn't accept his apology.
“Are you sure you’re all right? You looked like you’d seen a ghost only a few minutes ago.” Jake started, following Zoe to the side.
That wasn’t far from the truth. She didn’t know what was worse: ghosts stealing energy from her or making her the bad guy.
“I just want to ask you a question.” He nodded as a sign for her to continue. “Do you, by any chance, know a guy named Andrew Garley?”
Zoe raised an eyebrow and walked closer to him. They were standing in front of each other and she didn’t look intimidating at all, no matter how much she wanted to.
"You seem to be very experience in dancing. You look like someone who's in the Contemporary Dance Department.” Zoe tried to lure him in.
“I don’t know anyone called Andrew Garley,” he stated firmly. “Look, I’m relieved that you’re fine now, but whatever happened, it's in the past now.” He took a long look at her before he left.
“What the heck are you doing?” Andy hissed, appearing next to her. He was glaring at her with so much passion that she felt a little touched.
“I’m trying to do something for you.” Zoe mumbled to the side.
“Well, stop. I don’t want you to get involved in this. It doesn’t concern you,” he scolded her, like an older brother.
“Look, I’m trying to help you since you got stuck here for me. I don’t care if you like it or not. That guy knows you and you told me too many times how much you cared for him. You had a crush on him and he’s acting like he has something up his ass."