The Black Book

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Chapter II

When I ran upstairs to escape Aunt Lil’s ghost-fit, I pried the special floorboards loose and pulled out Sandra’s secret book for a look-see. I normally didn’t take the leather-bound grimoire out unless I wanted to study it or I needed to look up something; since I’d memorized most of the damn thing, I didn’t really need to do that anymore. Except for study, sometimes I would take the big, Gutenberg-sized black bible out and pet it. Like a cat.

No, I don’t do that. I’m kidding. I did like to look at it sometimes - not read it, just look at it, to make sure it was still there and stayed secret and safe. It’s not like I huddle under my bed and stroke my grandmother’s evil book that I found when I was a kid, whispering to myself in the dark, ‘my precious,’ or anything. I just liked to assure myself every now and then that my secret things stay secret and everything is in its right place, like a security blanket. I didn’t like taking the book out and reading it because I didn’t need to do that all the time, but I liked to know that it was always there, just in case I did need it for whatever reason. I liked the assurance. I actually didn’t own a lot of personal shit, but the things I did own I took good care of; the things that I found, however, I’m more attached to than anything money could ever buy. I’m the kid who sees a pretty rock and decides to collect it and keep it in his pocket - he doesn’t play with it every second of every day, but it’s nice, toting that rock around, carrying it with you on various imaginary journeys. Sometimes the kid doesn’t take the rock with him on his little adventures; sometimes his grumpy mom forces him to leave it, but he knows where it is - under his pillow, in his bed, safe and sound - and that knowledge is a slice of happy pie.

I guess it must’ve been pretty late in the evening by the time I went upstairs - it was dark outside - so I found myself waking up half-sprawled across my canopy bed with my chest uncomfortably squishing my secret book, The Doors blaring insistently from my phone’s alarm clock. I even remember falling asleep. You’d think I would’ve put my grandmother’s Evil Book of Dark Magic™, in case someone was spying. Not that anyone would do that . . . That I know of . . .

“Boooooooo,” I moaned, slapping my alarm off. I grabbed the nearest pillow I could find so I could bury my face into its feathery goodness, and I cursed Jim Morrison’s sexy voice for waking me up. I inevitably dragged my tired butt out of bed and stuffed the Bad-book where it belonged, back in its hiding place, and went about my rituals.

I have a specific and orderly routine that I go through in the mornings. I won’t go into the inane details, but if I didn’t do my routine, I would be crabby for the rest of the day. It’s a little like wearing underwear that doesn’t match, or having a bad night terror, or being unable to eat breakfast. I’m aware that I can be obsessive compulsive. My little routines, my books on their shelves, my music, the coding of my notes, etc. I have to have control of some little things or I go ape-shit and start setting things on fire, or throwing things at people. Things like chairs, or pillows, or books, or children.

When I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, I yelped because I startled myself. I forgot what I looked like, so for a split second, I had to deal with the surreal sight of a total stranger in my mirror before realizing I was being dumb. I threw my mass of microbraids into a messy bun and went through my morning grooming routine. Once I was finished with the last line of eyeliner, I threw on a black shirt and a military anorak, laced up my boots, and then I was ready to face society.

One of the numerous plus sides to being rich enough to throw money at whatever you want is that you’ll never not have a nice car. My fifteenth birthday present, which I wasn’t allowed to drive until I was sixteen, was a cherry red F-type Jaguar. It’s a beautifully sleek beast, and I never drive it. It’s unofficially Scott’s car, not that he goes anywhere in it; because Mom took issue with Dad buying a teenager a car that can go zero to sixty in four point two seconds, he responded that he could’ve just give me his Aston Martin, but hadn’t done that because it wasn’t a “learning car” and he figured that particular brand could wait until I was “at least eighteen.” So, I got to pick out a bright orange Mini a few weeks later instead, because I like orange and no one would ever steal an orange car, right? Anyway, that’s the one I drive, and this all worked out in my Mom’s mind.

I don’t think anyone in my family, myself included, understand in the least how “normal” people basically function. Proof: my Dad has two Rolls-Royces, both are company cars, one of which is a limo that he uses primarily for business and it has a driver installed named Bubba. (I don’t actually know his real name, I never cared enough to ask.) Bubba used to pick me up from school in that limo on Dad’s orders before I had my Mini, and one time Dad saw a soccer mom pull up to the nearby elementary school to pick up her bratty children. Now, my father has never attended a public school. I don’t think he’d ever even sniffed at one, til I asked him if I could attend one. He was more open-minded than his own parents, and allowed me to choose the kind of school I wanted to go to once it was safe, because he had never had a choice in the matter when he was young, and said that he’d wished otherwise. Marcus Colville went to the types of stuffy boarding schools where you only meet people whose parents are from the same socio-economic strata as your parents. After grade school, he traveled to England to attend Oxford as part of an international law program, and ended up liking it there, and stayed for a while.

That day, from the stoplight, my dad was watching that random woman scramble to load up her unruly brood into her Sedan, and he asked out loud, “Those children seem ill-behaved - look, they aren’t even assisting their mother with her task. Why wouldn’t she simply hire a manservant to do this for her?”

Once I got over my fit of giggles over the idea that my father still used the word ‘manservant’ in conversation, I had to tell him, “No, see Dad, I think she’s got a zillion kids. I don’t think she can afford a driver. Though I’m sure she’d like one. Probably would make her life easier.”

And then Dad looked confused, or sad, or pitiful, and said, “That’s a shame. I don’t think I will ever understand the lower-to-upper-middle-classes.” And then we drove off, and he ordered Bubba to get us ice cream.

I don’t know, maybe because I’m the only one in my family who’s gone to a public school, but I tend to see things a little differently than the rest. All the other kids in Blackwood (there’s only about three) go to the same private school and don’t seem any happier than the kids at my school. Then again, they used to beat me up when we went to the same middle school, so fuck those elitist pricks. Really, down to it, I’m in the same bracket, and Vanessa makes fun of me for it all the time. I, at least, try not to smear my money in people’s faces.

I literally ran to my car, in a rush to get out of the building before my little brother could wake up. Sometimes, I was asked to drop him off at his private school, and I just was not in the mood that morning to deal with Erik’s butt. He was such a morning person, and there’s nothing I hate more than a morning person. Except for cats. So, I hopped in my car and sped out of the driveway like Speed Racer. I stopped to get coffee at a kiosk off the road a bit before I pulled into the school; I have a low opinion of schools, so I wasn’t in a big rush.

On a random note, pretty sure my high school’s parking lot was designed my meth-addled girl scouts who had minimal knowledge at best of public zoning and landscaping. Clearly, no form of logical sense went into its design. I almost wished that I had requested an off-road vehicle for my birthday instead of a Mini, that way I could just drive over the dividers and save myself the fifteen minutes at the end of the school day it took to get out of the damned parking lot.

Before I stepped out of my obnoxious orange vehicle to go to damn school like a good, responsible girl, I checked my phone for texts. Sometimes, Nessa would ask me to pick her up. Well, she wouldn’t really ask. If I heard nothing from her that meant that she was walking. She didn’t live that far away from the campus.

I had to run back to the car when I forgot my notebook; I only carry one notebook from class to class these days. I don’t use the textbooks they give me, they just stay in my locker. Actually, I don’t have a locker. Or I do, I don’t know. Uh, it’s probably somewhere in the school, or more likely it got swallowed by a black hole. My locker is located in the back seat of my car, also known as the floorboards. I figure, the only thing you need a textbook for is math, and since as a senior at Cartaligna High, home of the Stallions, I don’t have to take math anymore, so I can just wing it. Hell, the provided textbooks never taught me anything, and everyone ignores my existence, so I don’t have to read along in class or anything ever. It’d be completely pointless without Nessa. I’ve never seen the point of school, except for maybe in the social aspect; the social aspect, which I did not partake in. I never learn anything there that I haven’t first picked up in one of my books. I love learning and acquiring new knowledge; I’m a true Colville in that respect - the family motto is Conscientia potentia est — Knowledge is Power. Marcus, my dad, embodies this creed; learn, maneuver, gain power, and then it won’t matter if people hate you - you’ll be the one with all the playing cards.

I meandered into school and checked my wristwatch for the time. Five minutes after; first period had already started. That meant nothing. Everyone was always late to everything here, and no one but me owned a watch.

Unfortunately, I was too busy zoning out to notice that on my way to F Hall for first period history, I nearly walked head-first into one of the nearby pillars. I would’ve had a concussion if an ebony-skinned hand hadn’t grabbed the hood of my anorak and yanked me backwards, causing me to stumble.

“Watch it, dork-job!” Vanessa cackled. I whipped around to face her feeling grateful, annoyed, and relieved all at once.

“I watch it,” I defended, pouting. “I watch it all night long!”

She rolled her dark eyes and shifted her blue shoulder bag to her other shoulder. “You watch nothing all night long. Maybe reruns. The occasional German porno.”

“Oh, shut up,” I groused. “Go eat a bagel!”

She blinked. “Eat a bagel? Did yo-did you just tell me to go eat a bagel? That’s what you’re going with? Eat a bagel?

“Nobody knows how to shut up anymore,” I growled under my breath and snatched her arm, dragging our asses off to class. “Shutting up is a dead art, like wry humor, or miming.”

“I can’t believe you,” she whispered, still in stunned disbelief after we’d sat down in the back of our class. “You’re completely unbelievable. I don’t believe you - I won’t.”

“What’s not to believe? I could’ve said, ‘kiss my ass.’ Would you have preferred that? Okay, kiss my ass then.”

She took out her blue phone from her bag and began to type something into it while chuckling. “I’m quoting you on this. I refuse to let you live this down. I’ll never forget the morning that you told me off by telling me to eat a delicious bagel. I don’t believe you. I like bagels. Oh man. I’m hungry now, why’d you have to bring up bagels? I didn’t have breakfast…”

“Oh, be quiet.” In my defense, my retorts just pop out. I was thinking about food at the time, but was also reaching for an insult, and that was what my heart went with.

“Go eat a bagel,” she snipped back, chuckling under her breath.

The school day went by like an unpleasantly strong breeze. It didn’t last long enough to be irritating, but it was mildly irritating that it happened at all. I was proud to say that I didn’t pay attention in a single one of my classes, being far too busy doodling in my singular notebook to give any attention to my teachers. The law said I had to go to class, or I wouldn’t bother showing up at all. High school and I had a delicate relationship - it didn’t pay attention to me, so I didn’t pay attention to it, and all was well. Teachers’ eyes glossed over when they came across my name on the roll call; I was never once called upon to give an answer in class, or demonstrate a task. Whenever group projects were assigned, I was partnered with Vanessa every time without fail. If anyone happened to bump into me in the halls, they mumbled an apology and ran away from me without even looking me in the eye. I was used to it, though it still bothered Vanessa sometimes. I figured, hey, better than getting stuff thrown at me or called mean and creative names like when I was a kid in private school. That only happened for a brief period when I was a child; as soon as I started attending public High School, things changed and I started being ignored instead of targeted. I welcomed the change of pace.

This was my routine - what I’d grown up with, the treatment that I’d become accustomed to. It was a routine that I’d become comfortable with. I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t hate it, it just was. Nessa and I had ended up just agreeing to disagree over my blasé attitude about it, because no amount of talking about a thing has ever changed my mind.

Hard as it may be for someone like Vanessa to understand, but my routines existed for a reason. It was very logical, and simple: when you live an unstable life, you become an unstable sort of person, and unstable sorts of people crave routine and stability like Nessa craves chocolate before she’s menstruating, which is how I always know when it is coming, and it never stops freaking her out and making me laugh. My routines were the only source of stability I had; the security I felt from living in my routines was my solitary link to sanity. Other people who are sane don’t think too much about insanity, but insanity runs thick in the Colville blood. I had grown up with the instinctive fear that I would one day turn into my great-grandmother, or worse. Plus, you know. All the assassination and kidnapping attempts. “Stranger danger” doesn’t even begin to cover the subject. I trusted everyone as far as my father could Judo-throw them.

Wednesday, during lunch, a break in my routine occurred that momentarily made me question my sanity. It had been a perfectly normal Wednesday for me, right up until the point when a blond boy’s blue eyes met mine from across the quad. Everyone outside of my one friend and family avoided eye contact with me entirely, so you can understand my confusion.

“Who’s that?”

“Huh?”

I gestured in his direction with my chin, since my hands were occupied opening a can of soda. “That. Over there. Who is that.”

Nessa looked over in the direction I indicated, and her brown eyes widened in surprise. She blinked and scratched at her hairline. “The new senior? The one we had first period with, and he was introduced in front of everybody? Everybody has been talking about him ever since?”

“Who’s ‘everybody?’”
“Oh my god, I just talked with you about him before we came out here for lunch,” Nessa huffed irritably.

I was genuinely confused. “ . . . Did this happen today, or . . . ?”

“Yes!” She snapped. “You don’t remember any of that?”

One of my eyebrows crawled up my forehead. “Uh, Ness?”

“Sorry, I forgot who I was talking to for a second.”

“Duh.”

Vanessa rolled her eyes at me as she ripped a chunk of her sandwich with her teeth, and chewed thoughtfully. “You have the worst memory out of anyone I’ve ever met, you know that?”

“My memory is perfect,” I insisted with a glare, sipping at the can.

“Okay, fine, so your memory is eerie, but you have the worst attention span. Anyway, that’s Lorcan Halloway. I’m surprised you weren’t paying attention - I mean, like, everyone’s been all, ‘waaah!’ -about him being here.” She emphasized this with jazz hands, which I thought was wholly unnecessary. “Though I bet you fiiiive-teen, ten bucks that everyone’ll be over him by next week.”

The entire time Nessa had been talking, I’d been maintaining creepy eye contact with the new kid. Why was he staring at me? Nobody stares at me. Maybe he was staring at my hair? I tugged on the end of my big braid that Nessa had given me earlier, made up of my hundreds of microbraids. Maybe he was staring at me because I was unusual-looking. I played out a thrilling little fantasy in my head of stabbing Lorcan’s two pretty blue eyeballs out with a spork. “Why, ’cuz he’s got a British accent? Big deal, my dad has one of those,” I scoffed.

“Irish accent,” Vanessa corrected.

“What?”

“He’s Irish. Halloway’s from Ireland, so he’s got an Irish accent,” she told me. “Your dad isn’t British, he just went to Oxford and lived in England for a solid third of his life, and has a case of stiff-upper-lip because of it.”

I frowned. “Why do you know more about my parents than I do? That’s just—”

“Because I pay attention when people tell me things—”

“—creepy, Vanessa, just creepy—”

“—would you just shut up and stop interrupting me for once,” she snapped, and I shut up dutifully. I couldn’t repress the smirk on my face, though, and she playfully punched me in the arm. I think Vanessa didn’t realize what ‘playfully’ meant, so she ended up actually punching me pretty hard, but I took it with a smile. Attention is attention, right?

She eventually continued: “Anyway, he’s from Ireland, he moved here with his family, and, oh, I forgot, his family owns and runs Ni-Lo. He’s basically a prince and when he turns eighteen, he’s going to be the richest teenager in the entire world. What he’s doing here at this crappy public school in the States is beyond me. I mean. There’s probably some diabolical reason for it that us ‘lesser folk’ aren’t privy to, but seriously, who cares? Who even cares about that crap?” She laughed and bit into her sandwich.

Something about this didn’t add up in my head. “Wait, wait. I thought we agreed that the richest kid in the world would have to be the lovechild of Bill Gates and Christy Walton.”

Ness swallowed her bite and considered this, stroking an imaginary beard that grew out a good foot from her chin. “Point. But, that child is only a theory existing in the realm of our twisted imaginations. Halloway’s net worth is less than Gates and Walton, I think, by a margin of at least fifteen billion, from what Forbes said. And I guess he wouldn’t inherit all the money, just control over the family’s shares of Niall-Logan, which are only worth what the stock market decides they’re worth in the morning after the stock market is done doing its dirty— hey, don’t give me that look, I looked all this up on my phone two seconds ago while you were staring at the new guy. I still can’t name off random specific details about people off the top of my head, like you. I’m not honing in on your shtick.”

“Whatever.” Something else didn’t add up, though. “Wait, wait, wait. Wait. Wait. Ireland has a prince? I thought the Queen of England owned them.”

“The Queen of England doesn—what, Fry! The Queen doesn’t own Ireland and its people, s-s-she doesn’t own Britannia, she’s just its appointed ruler! And she’s not even the ruler anymore, she’s just a—just a figurehea—”

I waved my hand in Vanessa’s face to cut her off from her rant. “Spare me the history lecture, Plutarch, I know who the Queen of freaking England is. What I don’t know is how much I actually care. So there’s a rich new kid from Ireland who—wooh shit!” If I had been eating something, I would’ve spat it out in surprise and done a double-take. But since Friday Giza Colville is not a cartoon character, that didn’t happen, and all I ended up doing was slamming my drink on the concrete bench we’d been sitting on, causing some of it to spill on my hand and making a sticky mess. I had to lick it off. Gross. “Halloway? Ni-Lo? Dude! No fucking way!”

Vanessa smirked at me. “Way fucking way.”

“No, no! I think my dad is that kid’s dad’s lawyer! He mentioned a big corporate contract with Niall-Logan over dinner last week— holy owl tits. Small world!” I looked back over to where I’d see the apparent heir to Ni-Lo sitting in the quad, but he wasn’t there. I frowned a bit, but shrugged it off. He was new, that explained it - he’d learn soon, if not from others than from observation, that I was a thing to be avoided, not stared at like a creeper—

“’Ello.”

My mind blanked out in shock for a bit, which is as embarrassing as it is unusual for me. I like to think that, despite how much I joke and am made fun of for having selective attention, I maintain a fairly level head. The last time I was surprised by something, it ended up almost getting my brother and I killed. Granted that not all surprises are bad; take Christmas presents, for example. However, coming from a family like mine, well, let’s just say that my family haven’t survived all this long by being easy to take by surprise. I will say this, however: Lorcan Allister Halloway is the first, and last boy to ever surprise me.

Vanessa was the first one to coherently respond. I was too busy gawking like a lunatic to form words. “Hi!” She chirped, like it was an everyday thing, for strange billionaire Irish kids to just mosey on over to our gloomy corner of social outcasts and chat us up. “Uh, heh, did you need something?” She asked, her voice breaking into a short, uneasy laugh. It was just odd. Vanessa never was unnerved by anything or anyone. When we were first becoming friends and I introduced her to Scott, she didn’t even bat an eye. She took Erik’s Vlad-ism in stride, she traded puns with my parents, and refused to be intimidated by my father’s reputation. It was one of the reasons I was so horribly fond of her - nothing ever fazed my Vanessa . . . Except, for some reason, the new kid did.

Maybe it was because Lorcan was tall, taller than me, which wasn’t so much rare as it was unlikely. I was five-foot-eleven, quite tall for a girl, and half a foot taller than Vanessa. I was eye-to-eye with Scott. I wasn’t used to being towered over - Lorcan was at least a whole head taller. He wasn’t bulky, nor was he particularly fit like some of the jock-types at school, but he definitely had a presence to him that immediately set off my weird-ar. I’m a magical dud, but I can still feel magic in a certain way. When someone tries to cast a spell at or around me, I can feel the energy building up and being released like tingles on my scalp, that raises the hair on the back of my neck and gives me goosebumps. Lorcan Halloway physically felt like a minor blip on the weird-ar. Like a low tingle. Vanessa’s reaction made me question my own as part of my imagination. Maybe it was just the way the sunlight was striking him out there in the quad, or the way that he was standing up and I was sitting down so his shadow crossed mine, or maybe it was just that he had ridiculously blue eyes, and perfectly cut golden hair that was just the right amount of windswept; maybe it was the surprising strength in his jawline for someone our age, or his high, carved cheekbones—

And it occurred to me in a flash of inspiration that I was actually checking him out. I almost let out a gasp of shame at myself. That didn’t happen to me. I didn’t check guys out, ever! Things like guys and girls and their inter-relationships didn’t matter to me. I was Friday goddamn Colville. No! Just no.

Halloway’s appearance was unnerving enough to me as it was, but the sudden realization that I was randomly attracted to him (at a glance) just made things worse. I didn’t know how to deal with that, since I’d never really had the opportunity to be attracted to anybody. I learned very early on into this ‘puberty’ business that I had a butterfly’s chance in space of a simple, doomed relationship like everyone else. (It helped that I wanted nothing to do with other people, anyway.) Maybe it was just because this Irish kid was actually speaking to me, or the creepy eye contact earlier . . . I didn’t know how to deal with it. So, I didn’t. I refused to process that train of thought, and opted for my base reaction to everything: rude suspicion.

While all this important, teenage stuff was going on in my head, Lorcan had turned to Vanessa with a small smile and a polite, extended hand. “I just wanted to introduce me’self,” he said politely, in response to her query. “Ya pro’ly already know who I am, but I go by Lee. Me full name’s a mouthful.”

Nessa visibly relaxed and shook his hand, looking pleased at the gesture, and I glared. “All right, Lee, hello. I’m Vanessa DuFrenne. My . . . Lady friend here,” she turned to indicate yours truly, frowning at the sight of my obvious glare, “well, that’s a Fry. They’re indigenous to this region, and if you feed one accidentally it’ll never leave you alone.”

“A pleasure,” he greeted, all Irish brogue and smiles, either not getting Nessa’s joke or taking it in stride. Oh, boy, he was asking for it. Nobody’s goes all ‘polite’ on me! He was after something. He had to be. “Actually, I knew who ya were,” he admitted, looking at me. “You’re Friday Colville, yeah? Jammy to find ya here - our Da’s already know each other, pity we hadn’t met. S’pose it woulda happened soon. Living in Blackwood, going to the same school. Me folks have us moved into the new digs, but it’s gone how different roads and shite are on this side of the pond. S’a nice enough town, innit?”

I scowled at him with all my might. “Are you high? What’s wrong with you, kid?”

“Fry!” Vanessa scolded. She gave an apologetic expression to ‘Lee.’ “She was raised by wolves. Don’t mind her. The only social skills Fry ever learned were from animals.” ‘Wolves,’ I guess, was code-word for ‘a negligent vampire godfather.’

Lorcan didn’t look too offended, damn him. Instead, he looked very amused, but he was trying to hide it behind a smile. What the hell was his game here? Now he had me curious. Ah, augh. The last thing I needed in my life was to be curious about an attractive, rich boy! “It’s fair. I was a bit of a header back home.”

“I have no idea what that means,” I said bluntly, and took a drink from my soda.

His brow furrowed in thought. “Er, Americans. Right, it means I acted out a lot.”

“I don’t act out,” I told him, my tone as dead as pans could get, “I just don’t like you.”

“Raised by wolves,” Vanessa threw in, “she doesn’t mean that.”

“No, I meant it,” I insisted.

“No, she doesn’t.”

I turned my mismatched glare on Vanessa this time. How dare she turn on me! “Why are you trying to tell me what I mean and don’t mean? That’s just annoying. Why are you being annoying to me?”

“You’re annoying and naggy most of the time, but you don’t see me bitching about it, do you?” Nessa shot bac.

Lee was now eying the both of us like we were slightly crazy, but couldn’t decide if he was amused or put off by it. He appeared to be on the fence for a while, until he decided on amused, and let out a low chuckle. “Ran into a couple of quare hawks, I have.”

I switched my glare back to him, feeling my temper rising. “What did you just call her?”

“Oh, it’s a compliment,” he explained. “I didn’t intend offense.”

“Look, Lee,” I finally snapped, tired of all of this ‘talking’ and pretending to be social, “you haven’t been here long, so a word to the wise: I was raised by a bunch of black witches and killers.” That wasn’t a falsehood, I’d seen Dad kill a man in self-defense, and I knew for a fact Scott had killed simply because he was a vampire before they went public. “You’d better learn quickly how things work here or face the cold shoulders of pariah-dom. I’m warning you, because I’m trying to be nice. I’m actually doing you a favor right now - don’t talk to me, don’t look at me. Do yourself a favor and walk away, right now.”

Vanessa was about to object to my little speech, but one glare from me silenced her objections, and she just looked down instead. I didn’t like disappointing her, but it was the truth - the truth, and she couldn’t deny it. Being my friend had consequences. It didn’t hurt me to admit it, but I think sometimes it hurt her for whatever reason. I think she still has some lingering naivete, which part of me enjoys because it’s so different to what I’ve always known. I grew up in a very different world than Nessa did, which she sometimes allows herself to forget. It’s not a matter of forgetting for me - I can’t change who or what I am, and I envy no one. I dislike people immensely, but it’s not born out of a kind of sick envy where I wish I could just be like everyone else. Everyone else, when compared to my family, are horrid bores and ignorant pigs. But, I digress.

Lee, very suddenly, completely turned the situation up over my head and plopped his Irish arse right next to mine on the bench, grinning the kind of million-watt grin that should be illegal. I just stared, because what else is there to do but stare at someone when they’ve completely dumbfounded you?

All he said in response to me was this: “Everyone ken that. What do I care? And why should I listen to your advice, huh? You’re obviously a nutter, ya just said so yourself.”

I was still staring when Vanessa had the gall to laugh and say, “Dude’s got a point.”

And then Lee stared at her like she’d grown a second head. “What’s a ‘dude,’ anyway? I never knew.”

At that point, I couldn’t contain my hysterical giggles. Sometimes, you have to laugh just because there’s nothing else you can do.

As if with the flick of a wand, the Dynamic Duo that had previously consisted of only Vanessa and myself had now become a Trio. (The Terrible Trio? The Terrific Trio? The Galaxy Trio? Screw it, I’ll come up with a better name later.)

Lee wouldn’t leave us alone, and Nessa was more than happy to have another person to gab with, particularly as that person turned out to be as much of a history nerd as she was. I didn’t know how to feel about it, but it wasn’t something that I could avoid since Lee would not leave me alone. I gradually got tired of being irritated at him, and settled for choosing not to feel anything at all about the subject. Lee, good-looking blond Irish bastard that he was, was a persistent little turd. Almost as persistent as me. I couldn’t help but respect that trait, even when I found it very annoying in others. Just take my little brother for example. The reason Erik and I had our spats was because we were both persistent bastards.

Still, there was something ‘off’ about Lee that I couldn’t put my finger on. Ever since he introduced himself to us that slow, lazy Wednesday, I’d been unable to peg what it was, but I’d gradually filed it away in the back of my mind for later study. Clearly, he wasn’t in his right mind, if he was willing to go out of his way to talk to the two of us. Maybe that was all that was off about him - that he possessed the desire to say ‘hell with it’ to social convention. I don’t know. Something in the back of my mind, some remaining suspicious part of me refused to let go of the idea that Lee was after something. He was playing a game, he had to be. I rationalized that my suspicions, if they weren’t proven right in time, would eventually die out; I had been abnormally on edge around Vanessa when we were first becoming friends, too. It was just basic psychology - anyone who was as isolated as I was would naturally be suspicious. Right? Right.

It didn’t help matters that right from the get-go, I’d had a little bit of a crush on Lee. I wasn’t an idiot - I knew what those feelings were, and I knew that they were utterly useless to me. I’d done my best to ignore them, but I was getting really annoyed at myself for blushing whenever he got too close to me. I’d manage to contain my reaction to mere fidgeting. I couldn’t afford to let anyone know about it, least of all Vanessa - I somehow managed to hide the fact that I had a new friend, a guy friend, from Scott for the first couple of weeks that the three of us had begun to hang out, but I didn’t know how long that was going to last.

I still couldn’t get over the idea that this rich Irish kid wanted anything to do with me. It just didn’t make sense. Just because my father was his father’s corporate attorney or whatever wasn’t reason enough; that was only a correlation, not causation. I knew that it wasn’t because Lorcan was interested in me - I mean, just look at me. One black eye, one hazel, taller than most men, features to wide for her own face, and no chest to speak of? Seriously. And why would he just want to be my friend? I’m not a friendly person. I didn’t need any friends. Nessa was the only person I really interacted with outside of my family, and I was fine with that. I appreciated her a lot, and she was my best friend, but if I had never met her, I honestly don’t think I would have turned out very differently. There was no hole in me that experienced fulfillment in good company, or ached in the absence thereof; I got the same feeling from reading research material as I did having pleasant, casual conversation. (Except that people are capable of surprising me and research papers aren’t, which was why I usually preferred paper to people.) There’s an untold story named Candace behind that mentality. Needless to say, I learned the hard way growing up that getting too close to people was something to be strictly avoided. Family was all that mattered, and anyone else just watered down the experience? So what was Lee playing at, pushing his way into my inner circle?

More importantly, could I afford to let him in?

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