Tracked: A Valkyrie Saga Book 2

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Chapter 6 - Upsetting Insights

Holy shit, Ray’s new friends are all fucking hot, especially this one. Not only does she have the kings of Skyline High following her around like a bunch of lost puppy dogs, now there is a whole new crop of hotties and they all seem to be revolving around her. I always knew that there was something different about Ray, but I never pushed for answers because I figured that the truth would be something boring. I preferred to think that she was a KGB spy or something else equally ridiculous. It added flavor to our boring small lives. But the moment that Ray was noticed by the Berg Twins and Max Nilsen everything changed. Now all of my questions were building up and every day it felt like she was getting pulled farther and farther away from me. She clearly has some shit going on, but Ray was refusing to let me in. Instead, telling me that it was too dangerous for me to know and she would walk away from our friendship before she would tell me.

Amy and I were losing the fight to survive against our druggie mom, school bullies, and self hate when Ray came along and changed everything. She defended us, supported us, and was a constant for us when the rest of the world showed us every day that we weren’t worth their time. There was no way that I was going to let her go through whatever this was alone.

--Jack Huntsville


Jack and Jonas were still talking and didn’t notice Sean and Mathis until they were hovering before our table. Sean was polite enough to wait for a pause in the conversation that only happened when Jack looked up and took a double-take when he saw my blood relatives. I did have to admit that there was a strong family resemblance.

“Hello Ray, I hope you are doing well today. We didn’t mean to interrupt your lunch, but we were hoping to talk to you for a moment,” Sean said in a polite tone.

When I took a moment too long to answer because I still wasn’t completely sure I wanted to talk to them, Jack spoke up in my stead. “You must be the long lost family that just happened to find Ray when she is about to age out of the system and conveniently doesn’t need your help anymore.”

At the mention of long lost family, Jonas sat a little straighter in his chair and started paying more attention to the men standing before me. It crossed my mind that he had been sent here by either his father or Edison as a spy for the Blade Clan, but in the end, it didn’t really matter. Keeping a secret around here was near impossible.

“And who are you to be questioning us, boy?” Mathis demanded harshly and I took that as my cue to join into the conversation.

“This is my best friend and neighbor Jack,” I told them hoping that they would understand that he wasn’t living in a clan and thus not a Valkyrie. “And this is Jonas. He is friends with Regina Collins.” I threw in that second detail so that they would know that someone close to the Americas West Throne was here. Sean reached out and shook both of their hands while introducing himself and Mathis. I assumed he was checking for a clan bond to double-check that Jack was indeed a human.

Before the conversation could progress and I could find out why they were here, my manager Camila came over with arms spread wide and an excited smile on her face. “Oh my goodness, you must be Ray’s dad,” Camilla exclaimed and luckily stopped short of actually hugging Sean. “We can’t tell you how much we love having Ray work for us and are so thankful that she is okay after the shooting. What she did was nothing short of heroic and you should be so proud to have raised such a brave and selfless daughter. If I had been in her shoes, I don’t know if I would have jumped in front of that bullet as she did. That little girl owes Ray her life.”

Uh-oh. So much has happened since the shooting here last week that I hadn’t thought about it except to remind myself to check in on how Maria was coping after her mom had not only shot at her but also been gunned down in front of her. However, I was pretty sure that no one had mentioned the shooting to Sean and Mathis. Somehow I didn’t think they would just take it in stride.

“What shooting? Someone shot at Delia here? And why would my granddaughter be working at a place like this?” Mathis said with obvious judgment. This wasn’t the response that Camilla was planning on and just opened and closed her mouth a couple of times like a hungry guppie. Camilla always treated me well so I took pity on her. I stood from my chair, slightly turned her away from the table, and walked her back over towards the bar.

“I’m sorry Camilla. That’s not my father but my uncle and grandfather, and we aren’t close. They don’t know much about my life and I hadn’t gotten around to telling them about the shooting,” I explained in a soft voice knowing that at least half of Polly’s staff was trying to listen in for new gossip material.

“No, I shouldn’t have said anything. Are you okay?” Camilla responded in a kindly voice. I wished that I could have a normal life where I could confide in someone kind and caring like Camilla.

“Yeah, just run of the mill family drama,” I said and pulled today’s tips out of my front pocket. I counted out enough money to cover Jonas’ and Jack’s meal and said, “Can you give this to Heather so she can close out our checks? I am pretty sure that we will be leaving soon.”

“Of course child. You let me know if there is anything I can do to help,” Camilla said and then took my cash and went to find Heather. I took a deep breath and then turned to see Mathis questioning Jack and Jonas.

When I got back to the table Jack told me in a sarcastic voice, “Your grandfather wants to know why in the world you would need to have a low-level service job.”

I knew that Jack would love to say more on the subject and have another chance to dress down my relatives but this wasn’t the place. My coworkers didn’t know anything about me or my living situation and I preferred that it stayed that way.

“I settled all of the bills. Let’s take this outside,” I said in a low but authoritative voice and then turned to walk out the door. When I reached the front entrance I held the door open and they each filed onto the sunny sidewalk outside. Instead of pausing there, I continued to walk out until we were on the busy boardwalk that lined the beach. It was filled with people and because no one wanted to draw a scene, I figured it was a safe enough place to have whatever conversation this was.

When I finally stopped walking and turned around Mathis once again asked, “What shooting?”

“Last week there was a shooting at Polly’s while I was waitressing. A little girl was in trouble and I pulled her to safety under a table while the police dealt with the shooter. No big deal,” I replied in what I thought was a very even and reasonable voice considering the circumstances.

“Humans shooting at you is a very big deal, young lady. You shouldn’t be spending time at such a place, let alone actually working there,” Mathis said and I hoped that Jack missed the whole ‘humans’ comment.

I looked Mathis directly in the eye, clearly challenging any authority he felt he had over me, and said, “If you are here to judge me for the decisions I made to merely survive within the foster care system, then I am not interested in talking with you.”

Mathis sputtered in response and Sean stepped between us and said, “We aren’t here to argue with you or to make any judgments. We just want to show you something.”

“What do you want to show me?” I asked hesitantly. It didn’t sound like he wanted me to see a family photo album.

“It is a place that we have to drive to,” Sean said and must have seen my instant refusal of getting into a car with them because he immediately followed that statement with, “Your friends can come too. It’s only about ten minutes from here.”

That made me pause and piqued my interest. What could they possibly want to show me in this neighborhood when they had just traveled from the other side of the country yesterday? I turned to look at Jack and raised an eyebrow. I could take or leave Jonas, but I would really like it if Jack came so that I had someone that I knew without a shadow of a doubt was on my side. Jack nodded and I gave him a small smile, he always comes through for me.

“I have my car here. I can drive and we can follow you. That way if Ray wants to leave she can at any time,” Jonas said and I decided I might have judged him too quick. Maybe he really was here to be my friend.

“Okay, let’s do that,” I agreed and after a tense moment, we all walked back to Polly’s parking lot. Jonas drove an open red Jeep Wrangler while Sean and Mathis got into some white nondescript sedan that I assumed was a rental. We let Sean pull out of the parking lot first and then followed when they took a left out of the parking lot.

“What do you think they want to show you?” Jack inquired and I racked my brain for an answer that might make sense because I was asking myself the same question.

“Maybe I had family in these parts once upon a time and we are going to a cemetery to see an old gravestone,” I suggested and Jonas burst out laughing. I glared over at him for making fun of my idea but then Jack started chuckling too.

“God Ray, you are morbid. I really hope your new family isn’t taking you to a cemetery because that would just be creepy and they could just tell you about your heritage without the hallowed ground field trip,” Jack teased.

“Okay, fine. What do you think it could be?” I threw out and both stopped laughing and seemed to be thinking about their answers.

“I bet they are taking us to a bank where they are going to give you access to a whopping big pile of money,” Jonas said nonchalantly and both Jack and I gaped at him in surprise.

“Why in the world would you think that?” I questioned and Jonas looked between me and Jack for a moment before replying.

“They seem like the type of people that come from money. If my family found out they had a long lost relative like you, that would be one of their first moves. To make sure they were properly cared for,” Jonas said and I deduced that he was saying that if a female Valkyrie was discovered, the family would trip over themselves to make sure she didn’t go around looking like the poor country cousin.

“Yeah, well Ray needed help being properly cared for during the last four years when she was bouncing from awful to downright criminal foster homes, not to mention that these people should have taken her away from her dad. She found her own way out of that. Now that Ray is finally doing well on her own, a mysterious family shows up. The whole thing sounds fishy to me,” Jack declared and I wish I could tell him just how right he was. I wondered if I wasn’t a female with extra Gifts if Sean and Mathis would want anything to do with me.

“I bet the whole thing is more complicated than that,” Jonas said just as Sean parked in front of a beautiful Edwardian style duplex in an upper-class neighborhood. Once we saw that both Sean and Mathis were getting out of their car we decided to do the same.

I was bursting with curiosity with a side dish of anxiety when Sean walked up to the right of the two doors and unlocked it with a single loose key. He and Mathis continued into the house without saying anything and after a glance at Jack, I tentatively followed them inside. The front door opened into the front living space that had a wonderful large bay window that looked out on the neighborhood. The room was sparsely furnished with a maroon couch, blue reclining chair, coffee table, and large flat screen T.V.

After glancing around I followed Sean out of the living room, through a dining room that had a large wooden table that could easily fit eight and into the kitchen beyond. The kitchen had clearly been recently redone and was more modern than the rest of the house with light marbled granite countertops, dark stained wood cabinets, and stainless steel appliances. Mathis had already installed himself by a backdoor that I assumed opened onto the backyard and Sean was looking at me with an expectant look on his face.

“Well, what do you think?” Sean asked and I could tell he was excited about something, but I still wasn’t getting it.

“What do I think about what? You haven’t shown me anything yet.”

“What do you think about the house? There are three bedrooms upstairs and the basement is finished but doesn’t have any furniture. I was thinking you could use one of the bedrooms as an office and get a couch and a pool table for the basement. The front living room is a little small, but if you set the basement up right, I think it will work. At least until you finish high school,” Sean happily told me.

“I can’t afford a place like this,” I stated bluntly. I made decent money as a waitress, but I only worked part-time and housing in the Bay Area was completely ridiculous. A place like this might cost upwards of four thousand a month. I would run out of money faster than I could make it unless I dropped out of school and took another job while starting to work full time at Polly’s.

Sean gave me a gentle smile before saying, “We rented this place for you. I understand that you don’t know us and thus don’t trust us. You said you didn’t want to go back to Boston with us, but there is no way in good conscience that we can allow you to keep living on that broken-down bus. The house is mostly furnished, but we can get anything else you may need, like a desk and a computer, and a--” I am sure Sean would have kept listing different expensive material objects that he wanted to buy, but I interrupted him.

“I am not for sale,” I said in a flat voice. I wasn’t just going to let them into my life and allow them to auction me off to the most eligible Valkyrie bachelor because they were offering me a fancy place to live. If that was what I was interested in, I would have taken the Collinses up on their offer to join the Royal Clan. Sean looked completely taken aback by my words and I felt a little bad for deflating his happy bubble, but I wasn’t interested in taking handouts from people that I didn’t even know. I was not a charity case. I could take care of myself.

“Boys, please give us a minute to talk privately with Delia,” Mathis said in an authoritative voice. After checking in with me, Jack and Jonas went to check out the upstairs. “Young Lady, I can applaud that you are strong and determined enough to make your own way in this world and not take advantage of every offer that has been presented to you. And I understand that the Collin’s Royal Line has been trying to get you to live with them or the Blade Clan. It is a really good thing that you prevented that from happening, but this is different.

“This is not us trying to install you in our territory so that we have power and influence over you. This is about family and honor. It is our duty and privilege to provide for our family. I don’t know what happened to you as a child to turn you against my son, but the fact is that you are our flesh and blood. We were robbed of the opportunity to provide for you for seventeen years. That stops now. This house is yours, free and clear of any strings or responsibility to us, simply because a safe house, food, and basic care should have been a constant in your life from the start. We cannot change the past, but we can start to correct this error.”

Wow, that might be the most reasonable I have ever heard the older man sound. He was right that most families did provide for their children and a house shouldn’t be a big deal, but I wasn’t normal. My upbringing wasn’t normal. And after everything that had happened over the last two weeks, not to mention what my father put me through, I was generally distrustful and assumed everything had an ulterior motive. “So I can live here and finish school at Skyline High without owing you any kind of debt in return?”

“Jesus child, what happened to you that caused you to be so suspicious? We are your family. We only want what is best for you. I might be a little brusque at times, but I have been searching for answers about what happened to my son for the last twenty years. All of this came out of the blue and it takes a little more time for an old man like me to adjust. But know that the Olsen Clan will always have your back. From now on, anything you need we will help you get it. A child needs a place to stay with a real bed, working electricity, and simple plumbing,” Mathis stated and every word he said was true.

I stared into his muddy brown eyes and hated the contacts that hid his vibrant green eyes, but within their depths, I saw sorrow, questions, and a fierce protective instinct. Looking over at Sean I saw kindness, understanding, and love. I was completely unfamiliar with being at the receiving end of any of those types of emotions and I could feel the wall I was using to keep them separate from me start to crack. I swallowed back the knot of emotion that was clogging my throat and nodded to let them know I accepted their offer to live here. Sean gave me a hopeful smile and handed me the single key that he had used to get in while Mathis grunted and looked down at his feet.

“There is one more thing,” Sean admitted and hesitantly handed me a red folder that had been laying on the kitchen counter. “Please do not make the same assumptions. This is not a bribe. These are your father’s accounts. All I did was transfer them into your name because you are the next of kin that should have inherited all of his assets when he passed. Everything is completely legal and this money, plus some properties back in Boston are yours free and clear.”

I furrowed my brow and opened the red folder to scan the contents. My father had robbed and swindled for petty cash up until the day that he died. It was even the reason why he was finally murdered, not that I was complaining. There was no way that he had anything significant to leave me.

However, when I reached the account balance, I did a double-take and almost dropped the folder. After ensuring that I had read the number correctly I pulled the rest of the papers out and looked at the other four bank statements that were within, completely ignoring the other complicated paperwork inside.

I did some quick estimations in my head and my blood ran cold.

I was still swimming through a sea of disbelief that was quickly turning to pure rage when I heard feet stomping down the stairs. “Ray, Amy just texted. She needs me to pick her up,” Jack said with a semi frantic note in his voice. I pushed down my rage and tried to focus on Amy. I probed the tentative connection I had with her because I had claimed her as one of my protected, but I didn’t think she was in any immediate danger.

“Let’s go,” I said in a monotone and gently placed the red folder back on the countertop before turning and walking away from my family and the proof that my father was more of a monster than I had ever believed. We walked out of my new rent house and all got back into Jonas’ Jeep while ignoring the calls from within the house from my blood relatives.

Once we were several blocks away Jonas asked, “Where am I going?” and Jack rattled off some address that I hadn’t heard before. Jonas pulled over to put the address in a GPS app on his phone and I turned around in my seat to talk to Jack.

“Is Amy okay? Where is she and why did she call you?”

Jack let out a sigh and told me, “She called me in tears saying that she needed to be picked up and then texted me the address. She said she was fine, just didn’t want to be at the house anymore. She wouldn’t tell me anything else.”

Well if Jack didn’t know, my asking more questions wasn’t going to help the situation. I turned back into my seat and tried really hard to keep my focus on Amy instead of the contents of that red folder. But as much as I loved and was worried for Amy, during the ride my mind just kept going over what it meant for my father to have forced me to fight in the ring for a few hundred dollars when he had over three million dollars in the bank.

What kind of person would turn their back on that kind of money while literally compelling their flesh and blood to do all of the awful things he had forced me to do. I had stolen for him, cheated for him, fought for him, hurt people for him, even killed for him. I had always thought it was because of money. At least then I could blame his greed as the reason why he had forced me for all of those years.

But he hadn’t needed me to do those things for us to eat or have a dry place to sleep. He hadn’t needed the money because he had three million dollars just sitting in a bank that he could have retrieved at any time. That must mean that he treated me like a criminal robot because he liked it. He got some sort of sick satisfaction making me a murderer at the age of eleven.

I was pulled from my thoughts when Jonas stopped the car in a gas station parking lot and Amy climbed into the backseat with her brother. Her inexpertly applied mascara and black eyeliner were smudged and she refused to look at us. When Jack tried to ask her what was wrong she snapped at him and told him to mind his own business before crossing her arms over her chest in the universal ‘leave me alone’ stance.

Jack dropped the subject and Jonas drove us back to Sunny Times Trailer Park. Jack pointed out his trailer to Jonas, and Amy practically ran from the still-moving car. I asked Jack if he wanted me to come in with him, but he told me that he better handle this one and would text me if they needed anything.

That left me in the car alone with Jonas and nothing to distract me from the rage continuing to build within me. Long ago I had thought I had come to relative terms with what my father had forced me to do, but it was like the box that I had stuffed all of those feelings of guilt, shame, hate, and fear was smashed to pieces the moment I had opened that red folder. Jonas drove to the other side of the trailer park by my bus and I didn’t even ask how he knew where my bus was located. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except the rage that was boiling within my veins.

I jumped out of the Jeep and started to pace in the dirt and gravel of the broken driveway. Power and energy rippled across my skin and I felt my Shield waiver in and out of existence even though I hadn’t called for one. I felt like there was something inside that was going to explode out of me if I didn’t find some way to vent off some of this energy.

“Ray? What’s wrong?” Jonas asked tentatively and I noticed that was no longer in his Jeep. I kept pacing as I tried to get a hold of the power rolling and bucking inside of me. Then I remembered Derik having me fight Connor the last time I felt a surge of excess energy.

I turned to Jonas and asked in a dark voice, “You have Weapons, right?” When he nodded I continued, “And you are trained to use them?”

“By the very best in the Americas West,” Jonas said and I could tell he knew where I was going with this because he took off the light leather jacket he had been wearing. I summoned my wooden staff and gave it a few swirls while he called a very similar looking training weapon. I cloaked both of us so that no one walking by would see two teenagers expertly sparing by a broken-down bus and then surged forward in a strike. Jonas parried my strike and quickly advanced into another, clearly demonstrating that he was indeed highly trained. Back and forth we traded blows and I felt my muscles start to loosen and my shoulders relax as I used years of experience to keep my breathing even.

Jonas was blindingly fast and had had a significant weight advantage, but he fought clean. He had never been an underdog in a caged ring, knowing that each swing of his fist was the only thing keeping him alive. I had. I tapped into that crazed energy and my white-hot rage to keep striking harder and faster until we were both just a blur of movement.

Jonas was no longer delivering any offensive strikes and was now only reacting to each of my hits to the best of his ability. In a merciless move, I faked to the left and after he had committed to a parry position I switched my hold and brought the opposite side of my staff down towards the right side of his face. Jonas released his grip on his weapon and raised his arm in a protective gesture and I slammed my staff down on his exposed forearm. He let out a yell of pain and I heard the distinctive snap of breaking bone before Jonas dropped to his knees.

I immediately dematerialized my staff and rushed to kneel by his side. He was cradling his forearm to his chest and when he saw that I was no longer attacking, allowed himself to sit back on the ground. Guilt instantly replaced all traces of anger leaving me feeling small and worthless.

What kind of person hurts a friend simply because she couldn’t deal with her own emotions.

“Jonas, I am so sorry. There is no excuse. I’m sorry. What can I do? Please let me help?” I cried frantically determined to somehow make this up to him.

Jonas looked into my crazed eyes. Other than some traces of pain that were evident in his clear blue gaze, he didn’t look like he was angry with me. That didn’t make sense. He should be livid with me that I took the sparring session too far and broke his arm in a fit of near hysteria. Jonas reached up with his uninjured hand and cupped the side of my face before saying, “I’m not sorry. God, I feel so relieved and at peace right now. A little broken bone barely registers.”

I furrowed my brow in confusion and wondered if I had also landed a hit to his head because he wasn’t making any sense right now. “What are you talking about? I lost control and really hurt you.”

He let out a chuckle that did sound relieved and lighthearted before replying, “I am a very strong empath and therefore I am always being bombarded and ruled by other people’s emotions. Most of the time I don’t even feel like me because I am always channeling everyone else’s emotions. I have no idea what it is like to just be in my own head. You are visibly upset about something and undoubtedly a powerful Valkyrie. Right now I should be drowning in your emotions to the point where I cease to exist, but instead, you are a complete blank. I am not picking up a single emotion from you. I don’t know how you are doing it, but I would take a dozen broken bones to experience this at least once in my life.”

His palm was still cupping the side of my face and I pressed slightly into the warm clan bond sizzling between us. “It’s my Cloaking Gift,” I admitted to him in a soft voice. “My father was a telepath and used it to make sure I never even thought about disobeying him. When I was about twelve I figured out a way to Cloak my mind and hide my thoughts from him. It seems to work on Empathy too.”

Jonas gave me a gentle smile and used his thumb to trace the line of my bottom lip. “Simply incredible,” he murmured. I felt like there was this intense and very intimate link between us as I started unabashedly into his eyes. The clan bond seemed to intensify and I felt myself leaning in closer until I could feel his slightly labored breaths on the skin of my face. Then before anything else could happen, Blake’s monster truck screeched to a halt only ten feet from where we were sitting on the ground. All three of my musketeers got out and rushed to my bus.

“I texted Connor before the fight and told him that you were going through something and needed them,” Jonas murmured because our faces were still only inches apart.

“Probably for the best. Max can heal your arm,” I said and then rocked back on my heels, pulling my face away from his touch. I uncloaked us and it wasn’t long before the guys found us sitting on the ground in the space in front of my bus.

“What the hell is going on here?” Connor demanded as Blake came around to help me to my feet.

“I was upset and needed to blow off some steam. We spared but I lost control and hurt Jonas,” I admitted and that pit of guilt reopened inside my stomach. “Max, can you please heal him?”

Max did exactly that without a word of protest and knelt where I had been just moments before. Blake turned me and lightly grasped my shoulders and looked into my face before asking, “What happened? Are you okay? Why were you so upset? Why are you with Jonas?”

“God Blake, what’s with the twenty questions?” I asked a little harshly and twisted out of his grasp. I was still feeling overwhelmed and didn’t need to feel another bout of lusty feelings right now. “Jonas came by Polly’s to make sure I was okay after everything that happened when we were rescuing your dad. We were eating lunch when Sean and Mathis found me and asked to show me something. I didn’t want to go alone so both Jack and Jonas came with me,” I explained and inwardly cringed at the grunt of pain Jonas let out as he was being healed.

“What did your family want to show you?” Connor asked and I felt the urge to start pacing again.

“They may be related to me by blood, but they are not my family,” I snapped and felt another twinge of guilt when Connor looked like I had slapped him. I needed to stop taking my anger out of the only people that I actually liked and trusted. “I’m sorry. I am just getting to the end of my rope,” I admitted in a defeated tone.

“You have been through a lot in the last couple of weeks. We understand,” Connor reassured me, but it did nothing to lessen the pit of guilt, shame, and anger within me.

“They rented me a nice place to stay and they told me that my father had...” I started but couldn’t bring myself to tell them about the contents of that red folder. I looked down at the ground and clenched my fists several times as the tide of anger threatened to once again crash over me. My power once again rippled within me and two matching machetes materialized within my grasp without me directly summoning them.

“Maybe right now isn’t the best time to discuss this,” Jonas said and I glanced over to see he was now standing and looked perfectly fine. No broken forearm. God, Max’s gift was amazing. I gave in to my urge to move and completed several paces down the length of my bus before I was in enough control to dematerialize my machetes. I took the time to pace several more times and did some breathing exercises before stopping before the guys who all looked varying degrees of worried.

We stood in tense silence for a moment before Blake asked, “So are you going to stay in the place that they rented you? Because you are always welcome to stay with us if you would prefer.”

Oh Jesus, I was supposed to be thinking about Elijah’s offer to become an honorary member of their clan. There was just way too much going on right now. I trusted the guys and wanted to keep our friendships, but I wasn’t ready to live with them. While I didn’t trust Sean and Mathis as much as the guys, at least the place would be mine. I wouldn’t feel like I was intruding on someone else’s life. I could completely refuse and stay on my bus, but the idea of having running water and a real bed was just too good not to give it a try. My bus would be here if the whole thing didn’t end up working out.

“Yeah, I think I am going to move into the rent house,” I said and Blake looked a little bit like a kicked puppy. But of all the things I had to feel guilty over, not moving into their house wasn’t one of them.

“If you would like, we can help you pack and give you a ride over there,” Max offered in his sweet manner and I decided that I could really use a hug from him right now. I walked over to him and in a very uncharacteristic move for me, simply didn’t stop walking until my face was plastered to his chest and my arms were wrapped around his waist. Max didn’t hesitate to return the hug and I allowed the clan bond to calm my frayed nerves.

“That would be great. Thanks. And thanks for healing Jonas too,” I said into his chest and he squeezed me a little tighter in response.

“Anything for you, Ray,” Max murmured and a small ball of warmth started to form in my heart, competing for space within me next to the gaping pit of regret, guilt, and anger. Max let me go and walked over to my bus to start the packing process. Connor and Blake both looked at me with expressions that I was just too overwhelmed to try to decipher, so I turned to Jonas.

“Are you okay? I am really sorry for hurting you,” I told him once more.

He gave me a tight smile and tried to hide a cringe from me, but it looked like it was his head and not his arm that was bothering him. “I am good as new,” Jonas told me in a subdued and distracted voice. “But there are a lot of emotions flying around with the twins here and I think this is my cue to leave.”

Oh, he was in pain because the Three Musketeers were feeling overly emotional and he wasn’t able to block out their emotions. I loved all my Gifts. None of them ever caused me physical or emotional pain. It must be horrible to have something that is an integral part of you, also cause you so much strife. I nodded my head to show my understanding and decided to experiment with something I had been thinking about for the last couple of days.

“Okay. Thank you for coming to check up on me today and for sparring with me, but before you go I want to try something.”

The last thing I saw before I closed my eyes to help me concentrate was a concerned-looking Jonas who then flinched again as he presumably got another wave of emotion. With my eyes closed, I reached out with my power and searched for Connor and Blake who were both just standing and watching Jonas and me. I knew that my power could identify where other people were because I could form Shields around people without looking. I used those same instincts and found both Connor and Blake in my mind and tried to wrap a Cloak around their mind like I did my own to protect myself from mind readers. It wasn’t the same as Cloaking my own mind and it took me a couple of attempts, but when I thought I had something that might work I opened my eyes and arched my eyebrow at Jonas silently asking him if he could tell the difference.

Jonas’ face gradually lost all of its strain and his posture became more relaxed until he looked more like the man I had shared a moment with after our fight. “How?” Jonas asked in a reverent voice filled with awe.

I smiled back at him, happy that I could give him this one moment of peace after physically hurting him so badly in our fight. “I think it might be difficult to keep it up once they start moving, but I will practice and maybe someday when we all hang out. I can Cloak their minds so you can have an afternoon of just being and feeling like you,” I offered and his face broke out into a brilliant and excited smile.

“I would greatly appreciate that,” Jonas said before stepping forward and wrapping his arms around me. I hadn’t known that we were at the hugging stage of our friendship, but I felt awkward not returning the hug. After an initial squeeze, I pulled free of his arms.

“See you tomorrow at school,” Jonas said, reminding me that the contingency of royal and powerful Valkyrie children had invaded Skyline High. He then turned and got into his Jeep with that same big excited smile on his face.

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