Chapter 7 - Photographic Proof and Pranks
I knew that Clan Leader Greer had chosen me because after the Berg twins had moved away from the clan, I was the only one of the right age within the Blade Clan, but God was I thankful. At first, just the idea of trying to seduce a female Valkyrie turned my stomach because I had grown up with Regina and she literally made my skin crawl. But Greer and my Dad had promised that if I did this, then they would allow me to go and try out that clan in Denver I was interested in. I would cut off my own hand to get away from both the Royal and Blade Clan, so comparatively, a little flirting was a small price to pay. I figured pretending to be interested in a female Val would be easy considering I have had a lifetime to practice hiding the emotions tearing through my soul.
What I hadn’t been counting on was that I wouldn’t be able to read her. It’s like I have been drowning my entire life and can only get small gulps of air when I am completely alone. But when I am with Ray, it is blissfully easy to breathe. Now, something that had felt like a chore is quickly becoming my favorite thing to do.
“Report,” Clan Leader Greer demanded the moment I walked into the main clan house. He was feeling angry, inadequate, frustrated, and scared. First, I once again tried to wall off my own feelings from his so that I didn’t completely lose myself in his toxic emotions. Then I told him every detail that I had witnessed between Ray and the Olsen Clan. I even told him how strong of a fighter Ray was and that she was expanding her Cloaking ability to protect others from Telepaths and Empaths. Greer was not happy with my news and his anger grew.
I lost the fight and disappeared into the red haze of his rage.
It didn’t take long to pack up my meager belongings. The only things worth moving to the rent house were my clothes, my school things, and my secret stash. There was an old shoebox filled with old, undeveloped film canisters that I had hidden in the void and almost had forgotten about. Seeing it caused the little hairs on my arms to stand on end as if the damn thing actually contained the ghost of my father. I stared at it for a full two minutes before deciding that it was one piece of baggage that I wasn’t quite ready to part with yet, and I stuffed it into the bag with my dirty laundry.
When I had everything packed up, the guys insisted on carrying my sad-looking bags to Blake’s truck, and together we drove back over to the nice neighborhood that was still within Oakland’s city limits where the rental house was located. I couldn’t stand the tense silence within the truck, so I asked how their morning went.
“We went back to the factory in Castro Valley. Technically Elijah and Derik are the only ones that are part of the investigation, but they allowed us to tag along as a sort of training exercise. Now that we know that moondust is indeed a supernatural drug, there is going to be a huge investigation. Moondust usage and reports of unusual displays of aggression and violence are occurring up and down the coast. Hunters and detectives from at least six different clans were all there to try to understand how this had happened right under our nose,” Blake explained with an excited enthusiasm in his voice.
“The operation that we found at the factory was too small to be producing the amount of moondust we are seeing, so the top dogs all agree that there must be more cook labs. Some sort of network that allows the drug to be produced locally, thus cutting down on the risk and cost of transportation. Plus, when one lab goes down all of the other ones can remain functional. It really is a smart business plan and according to the Blade Hunters, it means that we aren’t dealing with your run of the mill criminal. Instead, we are looking for some sort of mastermind that either knows about the supernatural world or is a supe himself.”
“The boy from the other night said something about a witching line taking out the hunters. Also, those crystals that kept the Valkyries from using their Gifts and Logan from shifting back were clearly made by a witch. So maybe this mastermind is a witch,” I suggested.
“It’s possible, but not likely,” Connor said from the front seat. “Witches tend to be more supernatural adjacent rather than fully a part of our world. Supes will go to witches for a healing potion or if we need an exorcism, but generally they are viewed as humans with a few tricks. They wouldn’t have the resources or gall to pull something like this off. I mean they are kidnapping and draining Shifters. Sounds like a vampire to me. They are probably just using the witches as errand boys.”
Blake pulled up in front of the house and I was just about to argue that they shouldn’t underestimate an entire race of people based on a stereotype when Sean appeared in the other door of the duplex. I paused and looked up into the face that was so similar to my father’s and reconsidered what I was doing. I hadn’t guessed that Sean and Mathis would be inhabiting the other side of the house. I should have because everything has a price, but I am honestly surprised by this. I assumed that they would return to Boston and disappear from my life as quickly as they had crashed into it.
“You’re staying here?” I asked just to make sure I was fully comprehending the situation. “Don’t you have kids you need to get back to?”
Sean scanned over the guys before saying, “I do. But they will be okay with the clan for a couple of weeks. Mathis is going to stay here as long as you do. We want to have the chance to get to know you and let you get to know us in return. I’m glad you came back,” he said and the lack of buzz within my head told me that he was telling the truth.
I let out a deep breath and decided to see this through. I nodded my head to acknowledge Sean’s statement and then used the key to let us into my side of the house. It looked exactly the same it had an hour ago and I felt drawn to that damn red folder that was still sitting on the kitchen counter where I had left it. I reached out and ran my fingers over the glossy surface before pushing the entire thing in the void and sealing it there so that I couldn’t see it. Out of sight, out of mind.
Then I turned and went up the stairs to explore the rest of the house that I hadn’t seen yet. Upstairs there were three bedrooms and two bathrooms. One was an ensuite inside the biggest bedroom and I noticed that someone had placed my clothes and school bag within this room. The other two rooms were smaller, but both had queen-sized beds made up with simple but nice bedding. The basement was empty just like Sean had mentioned, but there were a washer and dryer in the right corner. I dragged my laundry bag down and started a load. This reminded me of Jack and Amy and I texted each of them to check in and let them know they could come and do laundry here instead of the laundromat.
With that little chore done, I was left holding the box of film canisters and thinking of the small hope that I had recently developed that Samuel wasn’t my real father. Kaiden had told me he thought Samul Olsen had kidnapped me from a royal because only royal lines had female children. Also, I hadn’t known what the familial bond felt like until Sean had touched me yesterday. Even if I don’t remember it, Samuel raised me and had to have touched me at some point.
There was only one way to know for sure and it lay within this hated box.
I walked up out of the basement and saw that Max was cooking something in the kitchen while the twins were sitting on the couch in the front room watching T.V. They each asked if I wanted any help but I shook my head and walked out the front door, still holding the box. I crossed the porch, knocked on the front door, and only had to wait a moment before Mathis opened the door and gestured me inside. Sean was also busy cooking in the kitchen and he smiled when he saw me.
“Hello Ray,” Sean said with an easy smile. “Would you like to join us for dinner? I am making spaghetti and meatballs.”
I hesitated for a moment and did an internal double check that I wanted to open this door into my past before saying, “No thank-you. I actually want to talk to you and Mathis. Do you have a moment?”
“Of course,” Sean said and dropped his smile when he caught onto my serious mood. He turned off the burner under the pot on the stove and indicated that we should sit at the dining room table. “What can we do for you?”
I looked down at the table and fiddled with the caved-in corner of the old shoebox in my hands and asked, “Can you describe the man that you know as Samuel Olsen?”
Mathis leaned forward in his chair and placed his palm on the table in front of me, clearly trying to get my attention. I looked up into his eyes and saw that he had removed his color contacts for the night and they were the same shade of vibrant green as mine. “You told us that Sam was alive until four years ago. That he raised you. Why would you need us to describe him to you?” Mathis asked in a stern but kind voice.
I let out a breath before saying, “You seem to think your son was a kind and decent person while I know that the man that raised me was evil to the core. Before yesterday, I had never felt a familial bond and there is all of this mystery surrounding Samuel Olsen including the fact that he disappeared twenty years ago. And why would a man who had access to that kind of money, live his life doing side hustles to just keep food on our table? I was thinking that maybe the man that raised me wasn’t really Samuel Olsen, but kidnapped me and stole his identity. Maybe that would explain why he treated me so badly and why he never returned to you.” I was afraid that they would laugh in my face but both Mathis and Sean looked thoughtful and sad.
“Sam always looked a hell of a lot like me,” Mathis said after a moment of silence. “He was five-eleven, had sharp defined features, and was a whole lot stronger than he looked. He had brown straight hair that he usually kept about three to inches long. He was a powerful Valkyrie with Weapons, Compulsion, and Telepathy. His lack of a Shield led to a training accident when he was first trying out with the Rabec Clan and he had a long jagged scar down the left side of his arm because he never bothered with finding someone to Heal him. My son was fierce, determined, generous, brave, and brilliant.”
The more that Mathis said, the more my slim hope that we had been talking about different people slipped away. The man that raised me looked exactly as he described, had the combination of Gifts, which is really rare, and I remembered the scar that he was talking about. Unbidden, I felt silent tears slipping down my cheeks and I didn’t know how to stop them from exposing how much I had hoped that Samuel hadn’t been my biological father. I looked down at the table and my vision started to blur from the tears.
“What is in the box?” Sean asked in a soft voice and I reached out to place my hand on top of the lid. If I opened this box, I would release the truth about my father and most likely crush these two men who loved the memory of a man that simply hadn’t existed for at least seventeen years. I didn’t know if they deserved that, but the selfish part of me needed them to understand that the son and brother that they remember was not the father that I had been forced to endure for thirteen long years.
I needed them to see this small glimpse into my hell so that they could understand why I couldn’t ever just join their happy family. I was too damaged for that.
I cleared my throat and used the sleeve of my shirt to wipe up my tears before saying, “When I was seven I found this film camera that someone had left on a park bench and I took it for myself. I was starting to understand that I wasn’t living a normal life. That most children weren’t forced to do things the way I was. That most fathers did not revel in causing pain as mine did. I thought that sooner or later a police officer or even my mother would come and save me. I decided that I wanted proof of what Samuel was doing. Proof of why I couldn’t stay with him and I needed to be taken away and protected from him. So I started taking photos of what he was doing. Of what he forced me to do. Of what kind of monster he was turning me into.
“I even would write down summations of the current criminal activity that we were engaged in and took pictures of the paper before destroying it so he would never find out. By that time I had decent control of my cloaking and managed to keep the camera and the film canisters hidden from Samuel, but no one ever came. Years passed and I had to find a bigger box to store my film canisters, but the moment that any police, doctor, or good samaritan got even the tiniest bit suspicious, Samuel would Compel them to forget and walk away. Or he would just murder them.
“Then the Yakuza killed him and handcuffed me to his corpse. The police questioned me, but when I tried to tell them and give them my box of evidence they laughed in my face, saying that it didn’t matter because he was dead.
“I kept taking pictures during the first few foster families that I was placed with, convinced that now that the police knew I existed they would care enough to actually save me from this new and different type of hell. But not one person listened to me. I was beyond their notice and no one cared if I was treated horribly because to them I was just a throwaway foster kid that was a burden to everyone around her. Eventually, I grew up enough to understand that no one was going to save me but me, and I stopped taking photos,” I said and that old anger caused by everyone’s indifference to my pain was enough to burn away my lingering tears.
“After everything you said, I believe that Samuel Olsen was my biological father and the man that raised me. It is your choice if you want to see for yourself the monster he became,” I said. Then stood and walked out of their half of the house, leaving my box of proof on the kitchen table. I didn’t even pause to see what expressions they wore, knowing that they had the power to emotionally destroy me.
I walked back into my half of the house and three sets of muddy brown eyes looked at me with concern. Sean and Mathis may want nothing to do with me after they see those photos, but that didn’t mean I would be left without a family. These guys had come to mean so much to me over such a short period of time. I knew in my bones that I could trust them and that this is where I belonged.
They, along with Jack and Amy, were my family.
“If they did something to make you cry, I am going to bloody my knuckles on their face,” Connor growled and I knew that I must look like warmed-over roadkill.
“No, nothing like that. Just talking about something that brought up bad memories and it was all me. I just had to be sure of something. I am going to go take a shower before dinner,” I said and then did just that.
When I came back down the table was set and we had a tasty diner of baked chicken and vegetables. I questioned Max about where the food had come from, and he told me that the entire fridge and pantry were stocked with food and drinks. I was so blown away by this that I had to get up and see for myself. Sure enough, every shelf in the fridge was packed full and the cabinets to the left of the oven were just as full. Jesus, what a difference a day could make.
After dinner, Blake asked me what I wanted to do and after a moment’s thought, I knew exactly what I needed. I needed to check in with Maria. I asked to use Blake’s smartphone and then used the instructions Elijah had texted me to video call Valentina Garcia on What’s App. Valentina was Maria’s aunt and who my little charge was living with after the shooting at Polly’s.
All of the thoughts about family made me realize I had another person I was connected to that I needed to check up on. During the shooting, when I had been trying to comfort Maria while huddled under one of the tables my Valkyrie power had surged and I unconsciously claimed her as one of my protected. Meaning that now I had a biological need to keep that little girl safe.
These last five days have been so crazy that I haven’t really had any time to check up on her and it was starting to physically affect me. Through our tentative connection, I could feel that her life wasn’t in any direct danger, but I knew first hand that not all families were good families. I needed to see with my own eyes that my little charge was doing okay. I waited anxiously as the phone continued to ring. I was just about to give up and maybe demand that we go over to Valentina’s house in person, when a tired but smiling Valentia appeared on the phone screen.
It turned out that Valentina wasn’t surprised that I was calling because Elijah had found time to check in with her and Maria twice since the shooting. I maintained an awkward conversation with Valentina for a few minutes before she finally passed the phone to Maria. My little charge was already in her pajamas and her curls were wet. Her face broke into a wide smile when she saw my image on the screen and my heart melted. Maria looked happy and healthy and a weight I hadn’t known I was carrying around lifted off my shoulders.
My little charge wasn’t much of a talker, but she took the phone and attempted to show me things that were obviously important to her. I made out a bed, a pile of beanie babies, and a well-worn book from the wildly swinging images as Maria ran around with the phone in her hand. During our entire conversation, I heard Valentina in the background and knew that she really cared for Maria.
I would always be there for my little charge if she needed anything, but knowing that she was a part of a loving and safe environment put my mind at ease. Right now my life was absolutely crazy and seemed to change from day-to-day. I was in no state to raise a three-year-old. It would have to be enough to love her from afar.
Valentina told Maria that it was time for bed and I stayed on the phone as she read Where the Wild Things Are aloud. I watched, my gaze transfixed to Maria’s beautiful innocent face as her eyes drifted closed and her breathing leveled out. Valentina told me to call anytime, and I assured her I would before ending the call.
The guys gave me a couple of minutes to collect myself before Blake insisted that I watch the newest Star Wars movie with them. When I admitted that I hadn’t seen any of the movies, we decided to start at the very first one and work our way through them. We got through A New Hope and started The Empire Strikes Back before I started to drift. Max convinced everyone that it was time to let me get some rest. However, when the guys were getting ready to leave I felt the pit in my stomach start to expand. I didn’t want them to leave. I didn’t want to stay the night here alone.
I don’t know where I mustered the courage to ask them, but the moment the words were out of my mouth asking them to stay, all three agreed instantly. Without even discussing it the twins both went into the room to the left of mine and Max headed towards the smallest one by the second bathroom. I got ready for bed and found that I fell asleep just fine knowing that the Three Musketeers were right next door.
I woke up to the smell of bacon and glanced at my watch to see that I still had plenty of time before we needed to leave for school. I grabbed my phone and responded to some text messages from Jack and I also texted Elijah asking him if I could come over to the house after school to talk about becoming an honorary Oakland Clan member. I was going to accept, but I did want to ask a couple of questions first.
He got right back to me and said that I was always welcome and that he and Derik would be waiting for us after school. Then I took a shower, marveling at the fact that I didn’t have to pay for a time slot, wear flip flops, or worry about peeping toms. All in all, I was feeling a lot better this morning.
I found Max placing large plates of eggs, pancakes, and bacon on the table and couldn’t help walking up to him and giving him another hug. No one had ever actually cooked for me before I met the Nilsen brothers, but both Max and Elijah seemed determined to make sure I had three home-cooked meals a day. Max hugged me back, asked how I slept, then called for the twins to come down to eat. Together we managed to put away every crumb of food that Max cooked. Then we had to hurry if we wanted to get to school on time. Max passed me a brown paper bag and I was once again filled with the warm feeling of being cared for.
The twins didn’t seem to be in the same happy mood that Max and I were, but I knew better than anyone that people were allowed to be in a bad mood sometimes. Frustration filled me as we parked and I saw Regina Collins and the group of four other teenage Valkyries that had transferred to Skyline High under the guise of some sort of home school exchange program. Really, they were just here to get more information about me and try to pull me away from the Oakland Clan. I really wish everyone would stop paying so much attention to me and let me drift back into the background where I belong.
I kept walking with determined steps, but that didn’t stop Regina from falling into step beside me and saying in an overly sweet voice, “Oh my goodness Ray, I just couldn’t believe my ears when I heard that my brother had actually attacked you.”
She sounded sincere but the buzz in my head told me that she was lying. Regina had no trouble believing that her brother would try to kill me. That probably meant that I could expect him to try again.
Oh the joys of being me!
“Do you have any idea why he would do such a thing?” Regina asked and I was surprised that she didn’t already know. She was the crown princess and would one day take over as Queen of the Americas West Kingdom. Why wasn’t her uncle keeping her in the loop? But if she didn’t already know about my extra Gifts, I wasn’t going to be the one to inform her. She might try to kill me too.
I just shrugged my shoulders and she waved her hand in the air before continuing, “Well, my family and I just feel awful about it. Kaiden has been grounded and can’t leave the palace until further notice. We would love to make it up to you by having you and your family up for dinner. Don’t worry, my brother won’t be making an appearance, but the cooks are going to whip up something special and I can’t wait to show you our palace. We set the whole thing up for tomorrow night and I am sure our staff are coordinating with the Olsen Clan Leader.”
Of course, she didn’t ask if I wanted to come to dinner nor ask the rest of the Oakland Clan to join us. I bet she thought I would be so thankful for the opportunity to actually eat with royalty that I wouldn’t offer a single word in protest. We had reached my locker and I was about to push for the guys to be able to come with me to this dinner when I opened my locker door and something exploded out of it, covering me in a cold sticky substance.
I had no idea what was going on and reached up to touch the slime that now coated my cheek. I touched something that felt like a popped balloon. When I looked at what was in my hand I saw that it wasn’t a balloon, it was a used condom that was filled with a milky white goo. I looked into my locker to find it filled with similar open and unrolled condoms and started to get a sinking feeling of what was now covering half of my face.
“OH MY GOD! How disgusting” Regina squealed and I looked into the hallway to see crowds of people had stopped in their tracks and now were staring at me with open mouths. One face stood out from the rest.
Madison was standing with her phone out taking photos with a satisfied little smile on her lips. This was her doing. Probably as payback for my almost kiss with Blake on Friday night.
Connor stepped between us, trying to shield me from the prying eyes around us and I pushed back into the void and practically ran to the nearest girl’s bathroom. I looked in the mirror and saw that the slimy white substance was globbed all over my face, hair, and chest like some sort of perverted porno scene. To make things worse, I had at least three used condoms stuck to me in various places.
I couldn’t use the sink from the void so I pushed back to the normal plane of existence and started frantically trying to wash this stuff off of my face. It smelled awful and my breaths started getting faster as I thought about what it might actually be. I hadn’t even been kissed, yet here I was covered in some strange milky white substance that was pouring out of used condoms. It was hard not to reach a certain conclusion and I was starting to panic.
I barely noticed the bathroom door open because I was too busy ripping my shirt off and using the dry inside to try to wipe off my face. All of the sudden, Chastity’s voice was ringing through the bathroom demanding that everyone get out. Once the few girls that I hadn’t even noticed were gone, Chastity came over to me with a bundle of paper towels and helped me get clean.
“It’s not cum,” Chastity stated bluntly and my eyes darted to hers in hope because I was starting to think about STDs and how I heard you can get gonorrhea of the eyes. “It is spoiled milk mixed with cornstarch. This isn’t the first time Madison or her clique of evil cheerleaders have pulled this prank.”
I let out a relieved breath and tried to even my breathing. I could handle spoiled milk. It was gross but nowhere near as disgusting as actual semen. There was a knock at the door and a short blonde girl that I knew was a wolf in the Oakland Pack shuffled into the room, evaluating my current situation. “Hi. My name is Luna and I bought a set of extra clothes that I keep in my locker. The shirt might be a little short on you, but I also brought Lawerance’s sweatshirt that you can wear over it.”
Oh my God, I hadn’t even considered that my shirt was completely ruined. If not for Luna, I would have had to use the void to go back home and get a change of clothes. Although, the idea of doing that anyway so that I could take a shower sounded pretty damn appealing. I still felt disgusting and I am sure I smelled even worse.
“Oh no you don’t,” Chastity told me sternly and I looked over at her in confusion. “You are thinking of running away with your tail tucked between your legs, but that is the absolute worst thing you can do right now.”
I looked over at my red-headed witch friend with disbelief and was about to argue when Luna spoke up, “The witch is right. If you leave or show any weakness now, they win. We have seen them do it before. They will use your shame as proof that you are a slut and everything will get ten times worse.”
“God, humans are cruel to each other,” I murmured and started washing my hands and chest as best I could in the small sink.
“No kidding,” Chastity agreed. “The best thing that you can do is leave this bathroom fully visible with your head held high. A victim of a practical joke gone too far, not an out of control slut that will steal everyone’s boyfriend if they aren’t careful. Use that allure that you have and make people love you. Win them over before Madison has a chance to poison them against you. Or the rest of your senior year will be pretty bad and the future queen of the Valkyries will see you as weak and easily taken down by puny humans.”
I thought it over and now that I was calmer and thinking more logically, I knew that she was right. “My life was so much easier when I just stayed invisible,” I lamented and then asked for Chastity and Luna to help me wash my hair in the sink.
Once I was as clean as I was going to get I put on Luna’s spare shirt that displayed significantly more cleavage than I was comfortable with and left a strip of my navel bare. Then Luna and Chastity insisted on doing my makeup even though I hadn’t been wearing any to start with. When they were done and I glanced in the mirror and decided I looked three years older and much more like the slut that Madison was accusing me of, but I did have to admit that I looked good.
I took Lawrence’s zip-up sweatshirt that was several sizes too big and pulled it on. Chasity convinced me to leave it half unzipped and declared that I looked H.O.T. I took three deep breaths and uncloaked myself a little bit more so that my allure would affect the humans. Then stepped out of the girl’s bathroom. The Three Musketeers, Jonas, and Felix were waiting for us but the rest of the hallway had been cleared out because the bell had rung for homeroom a while ago.
Felix let out a whistle and I pointed a finger at him. He paled and I knew that he was afraid that I was going to get mad at him for the whistle, but I had something else in mind where Felix was concerned. “My grandfather and uncle showed up this weekend. Do I have you to thank for that particular surprise?”
Felix went from white to red and I knew that I had guessed correctly. Felix was from Boston and had mentioned that his father knew and worked with the Olsen Clan. He must have told his father about me, who had told Mathis and Sean. Fast forward, and I was now dealing with a family reunion I wasn’t completely happy about. “Yes, that was me, Valkyrie Olsen,” Felix admitted using what I supposed was my formal title.
“Oh, don’t get all formal on me. I’m not mad, but a little warning would have been nice. I almost killed Sean when they surprised me,” I said in a less harsh voice and Felix looked up tentatively. “And don’t ever call me Valkyrie Olsen again. That just sounds weird coming from one of my friends.”
That made Felix smile and I reminded myself to find some time to hang with the kid. He seemed like a good guy and I wanted to get to know him more.
“Ray, are you okay?” Connor growled out and turned to see that he was really angry. Like as angry as he was when I showed up to school with a black eye. Connor wasn’t completely in control of his Gifts when he was this upset and I didn’t want to set him off.
“Yeah, big guy. I’m good. After the shock wore off and Chasity told me it was just spoiled milk, I was just fine,” I told him truthfully. “We should probably get to class.”
“There is something you need to see first,” Connor said with a little less growl and a lot more trepidation. He then used his thumb to open something on his phone and then turned the screen for me to see. I stepped closer and looked down to see a photo of my face. It must have been taken right after the milk and condom bomb went off because the slimy goo was dripping off my face with an open condom stuck to my cheek. I looked completely shocked and vulnerable. At the bottom of the photo in bold black letters was the word SLUT.
“We tried to stop it,” Max said from behind Connor’s shoulder. “But the photo went viral before we had time to do anything.” I glanced around and saw that everyone expected me to freak out again.
I didn’t like the photo, but it wasn’t like I really cared about it. I didn’t know most of the students in this school and the ones I did know would already know that this photo was a prank. Chasity was right. By letting any of this get to me, I was just letting Madison win.
I took another calming breath and then looked up at Max who was also angrier than I had ever seen him before. “Thanks for trying. It means a lot to me, but homeroom is almost over and I want to at least make an appearance so I am only marked late and not absent.”
Then I turned on my heel with my shoulders straight and my chin held high and walked into my classroom.