I can feel Lillian staring at me, waiting for me to speak, but I am still taking my time to process.
“He isn’t crazy.”
“What was that?” she asks in a confused tone.
“My father, he’s not crazy. When I was growing up he would tell me these bedtime stories about people like Axel and Alyssa, on he never called them Nexxus. He referred to them as ‘the creatures’ and he always made them out to be the villain of the story. The thing is, these were never just stories to him. They were always something more. I think the as his mind began to go, he forgot what he was but his mind didn’t. I think that is where those stories came from, but he never mentioned Reapers. His stories never talked about anything like what you were telling me about. Then things got so bad with him that he tried to kill me and, after that, he wasn’t allowed to be left alone with me. He used to tell my mother that I ‘needed to go’ and that having me ‘signed their death certificates’. The doctors said he was a paranoid schizophrenic and all of those ideas came from his decaying mind, but I think they were wrong. I think he tried to fight his nature and it drove him insane. My father, he had to be a Reaper.”
“Your mother, does she suffer from some of the same issues that your father did? She seemed perfectly fine when we met but medical advancements have come so far these days that it might make it difficult to tell.”
“No, she’s fine. I, I don’t even think she knows about my father. There is no way she could have or else she wouldn’t have divorced him. It killed her when she had to make the decision to leave him and, if he went crazy because he wanted to make a life with her and me, then she never would have done it. He must have been trying to keep it hidden from her, there’s no other explanation. He must have never told her.”
“It would make sense if he kept his Reaper identity from your mother, Reaper and human connections are strictly forbidden. Reapers are firm believers that humans are lesser beings and should only be interacted with for feeding purposes. Unlike Nexxus, who tend to keep themselves away from other Nexxus as it tends to make them bigger targets, Reapers prefer to travel in packs. They call them covens and, simply by getting himself involved with a human, your father would have been outcast from his.”
“Well, shit. As romantic as it is to know that my father gave up his life just to have one with my mother, this leaves me without anyone to help me with this.” I fight back the tears welling in my eyes. If it were just Lillian and me in here, then I might allow myself some time to break down, but I refuse to let Axel see me cry. I can’t, I won’t give him the satisfaction of letting him see me like that. “Is there anything I can do to stop this? There has to be. There is no way that my only choice is to sit around for the next five months waiting for my serial killer urges to kick in.”
“I can give you some herbal tea, for now, to help stave off the urges, but it won’t work forever. There are a few people I can reach out to, a few Nexxus families who live down south, but there is no guarantee that they will be able to help. Coming across a Reaper that doesn’t want to kill is unusual and unheard of, but that doesn’t mean that it has never happened. There have to be others like you, others that weren’t aware of what they were for years and weren’t raised around other Reapers. There was a coven in Mexico that went years without harming the Nexxus that lived close to them before it became too much and they left. Maybe those Nexxus know how they managed to do it. I will look into it for you.”
I should feel a tiny swell of hope at the idea of her finding someone who can help, but I can’t even muster it up. “Thank you. In the meantime, I would like to try the tea. I mean, what could it hurt? I have a few questions left, if you have time.”
“Of course I have time. Anything I can do to help.”
“What were you talking about with this whole feeding thing you were talking about. All I can think about is this vampire movie I watched and, while I know it can’t be that, I just can’t get the image out of my head.”
Axel snickers, reminding me of his presence and the fact that he is very much enjoying my misery.
“On the outside, you are completely human but your body doesn’t work the same way a human’s does. As Reaper, you require energy instead of food. Your body then turns that energy into strength and anything else you need to survive. This is why most Reapers live in heavily populated areas, because it gives them an unlimited source of food. Plus, the more people around, the stronger a Reaper is. Alyssa stated that, prior to the other night, she heard your friend mention how sick you have been lately and I believe it has had something to do with the changes taking place inside of you. I believe that, since you are presenting early, your body has begun rejecting food as it will when you are fully Reaper. It seems to me that you are almost at the point where you no longer require food to survive. It makes sense that you are experiencing outward changes as well as internal.”
“No, that has to be wrong.” I shake my head in disagreement. “I shared Alyssa’s lunch with her the other day and I didn’t get sick. I ate the fruits and stuff that she brought with her and it didn’t make me sick the way other food has.”
“You also ended up in my backyard that night. Those were grown in Axel’s garden with his energy, which explains why your fever got so high and you made you first slight shift the following day. Reapers don’t usually get their first taste of Nexxus energy til after they come of age but you, you ingested some without even knowing it and it appears that it started a chain reaction in you. Don’t worry, it won’t mess with you now that the fever broke, but it might help stave off some of your cravings should they begin. However, if you tried to eat non-Nexxus grown foods, you would become ill.”
“So, my eating the food from Axel’s garden can help me get by? Like giving small hits to a junkie?”
“Thank you.” I stand up, running my hands down my jeans nervously. There is still a giant list in my head of things I want to and need to ask her, but I don’t think I can handle anything else today. “I think it might be best if I go home now, I need to think about all of this. School ended about an hour ago and my mom is going to be wondering where I am. I can leave, right?”
Lillian laughs. “Yes, you can leave. Eveline, Reapers are dangerous because they are raised to be, but you aren’t like that. I know this must be hard on you, especially finding out like this, but know that there is hope. Here, let me walk you downstairs and get you the herbs for that tea.”
Alyssa pops her head into the kitchen as her mother rifles through the cabinets, smiling at the sight of everyone still in one piece. “Hey Eveline, I’m really sorry about the whole making you pass out thing. I, I didn’t know that you didn’t know you were a Reaper. Axel, he told me you were going to try and kill us.”
“I’m sure he did. Don’t worry about it, I would have done the same thing if I had been in your shoes.”
Axel grimaces at our conversation, rushing his sister out of the room.
I guess that, unlike his mother, he still thinks I am very much a threat.
“Here ya go.” Lillian hands me a large jar of purplish herbs. “Just add three tablespoons into a large pitcher, mix with hot water, and then add sugar or honey to taste. If you drink or sip on it throughout the day then you shouldn’t have to worry about those pesky Reaper urges bothering you. This should last you for a while but, in the meantime, I will have Axel grow you more.”
“This is safe for other people to drink, right? My mother is currently in the running for ‘nosiest person in the world’ and if I try to hide it from her she is going to think it is some new kind of drug. I just got her to stop accusing me of being on something and I really don’t need that to start up again, especially now that I have something to hide.”
“So you will be hiding this from your mother? I wouldn’t say I suggest it.”
“I have too. I told you, there is no way she knew what my father was and, if I tell her what you just told me, she’ll institutionalize me. Watching him fall apart like that changed her, she won’t care if I can prove it. Plus, if we can find a way to stop me from turning into a Nexxus killing machine then I will never have to tell her.”
“It’s hibiscus, so she is more than welcome to drink it. Now, seeing as he was the one to bring you here, Axel will drive you home.”
I glance out the window, frowning at the storm that rages outside. The wind blows fiercely, fragile branches shaking on the trees they belong to as their leaves are torn away from them.
A chill crawls across my skin, my stomach churning nauseatingly as memories of what happened to me the last time a storm this bad rolled through.
My father had known that his marriage to my mother was wrong, that my birth was wrong because of it, and he had tried to kill me for it.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” I decline her offer.
“Nonsense. I am not about to let you attempt to walk home in this,” she replies in a very motherly tone and I know that there will be no arguing with her. “You could catch a cold.”
Axel lets out a huff. “If she wants to walk then let her walk.”
“Axel, grab your keys, drive her home, and be polite while doing so. You and I will discuss your punishment when you return. Oh, did you think a stern lecture and my willingness to help Eveline was all you were going to get? What you did was reckless, ill thought out, and not to mention highly illegal. You have far more than just a lecture in your future.”
The idea of him getting yelled at for hours almost makes finding out I’m going be a crazed killer one day worth it.
He remains mostly silent on the drive back to my house, occasionally mumbling to himself about how it rains too much and how it is forcing him to drive twice as slow as he wants to. When he is not mumbling, he is staring straight ahead.
Sometimes he glances over to glare at me.
“I didn’t know,” I announce, too exhausted to deal with his hostility. “I didn’t know what I was, what my father was, and I wasn’t trying to trick you.”
“It doesn’t matter. Not knowing what you are doesn’t make you any less dangerous. It doesn’t make you any less lethal to me, Alyssa, or any other Nexxus you happen across.”
“You didn’t seem too worried about how lethal I was when you were kissing me,” I snark, the anger I am struggling against temporarily getting the best of me.
“That was before I knew who and what you were. It was a mistake, I should have never let it happen. Something told me there was something wrong with you but I let my hear-” He pauses, shaking his head as he glares at me again. “It should have never happened. I should have listened to my instincts when they told me not to trust you.”
“If you thought something was wrong with me and something told you not to trust me, then why even kiss me at all?”
His stern features soften. “Because I am an idiot. Because I had been thinking about it ever since that night at the lake. Because, at that moment, not kissing you felt wrong. As I said, I am an idiot.”
His words dig into me but I keep my face emotionless, not wanting him to see the pain he has caused. Previous rudeness or not, I had felt something shift in me the day we kissed. Hell, I actually think it might have happened right around the time he asked me when the last time someone had called me beautiful and then followed it up with complimenting me on more than just my looks. His words had seemed so genuine, like he really meant them, but I guess I know now where he stands on me.
Hearing him say the kiss was a mistake, well, it hurts more than it should.
“I would never hurt Alyssa.”
He whips into my driveway, slamming on his breaks. My body jolts forward and my shoulder slams painfully into the dashboard, a loud yelp escaping my lips.
“Are you really that dense or is this whole thing just an act?” Axel snaps. “Didn’t you hear with my mother said to you? You won’t have a choice. You might not want to hurt her now but, when you come of age, what you want now won’t matter to you. Nothing will matter to you then that matters now.”
“She also said that the tea would help! She also said she knows some people she can call to ask for help. Someone has to know something that can help me. I mean, she said those Reapers in Mexico lived near Nexxus for years with no issue. I am not giving up hope until I have to.”
He rolls his eyes. “Then you’re a bigger idiot than me. Trying to stop a Reaper from killing is like trying to stop a rabid animal from biting. It’s pointless and would require a tranquilizer gun, chains, and a muzzle. There is no changing it. There is no fixing it. You are what you are, Eveline, and there is nothing I, um, I mean, there is nothing you can do about it. Time to accept that and move on.”
For a moment, he sounds more angry about this than I am. For a moment, he sounds almost sad about it. Then I rejoin reality, where he is an asshole who only cares about himself and his family.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence! No, seriously, how sweet of you to kick me while I am already down.” I hop out of the Jeep, slamming the door behind me.
“Shit,” Axel curses from inside of the vehicle, the sound of his hands hitting the steering wheel following seconds before I hear him getting out as well. “Eveline, stop! Come back here!”
I stop walking, my back turned to him as I furiously wipe away my tears. “Just leave me alone! Don’t you think you’ve done enough?”
He moves so that he is now standing in front of me, shaking his head as he runs his fingers through his soaked hair. “Eveline, damnit, don’t do that. Don’t cry.”
“I’m not crying.” I continue to rub at my face but, once I realize it’s not helping me any, stop and throw my hands out dramatically. “You know what? Yes, I am crying! But what does it even matter to you? None of this impacts you in the least bit. I am the one who just found out that her entire life has been a giant lie and that, instead of being the crazy person I always thought he is, my father is actually a giant energy devouring monster who lost his mind because he was trying not to kill people like you. Oh, and let’s not forget the part where I am one of those things too. I am a time bomb Axel, with t-minus five months until detonation. And you? Well, you’re some kind of creature that can make nature your bitch and your sister is the frickin Air Bender! I don’t even want to think of the other Nexxus and what they can do because my head might explode at that point. Today had been hard enough for me without having to think about all the things your mother didn’t tell me and all of the things she doesn’t know. And I get it, you get off on watching me suffer, but just for today can you please give it a rest? Because I don’t think I can keep pretending to be strong while everything is beating me down! You can come back tomorrow and torture me some more but, for now, please just leave me alone.”
His entire demeanor shifts and Axel does the unthinkable, he reaches for me. In a surprising move, he pulls me to him and wraps his arms around me. “Jesus, Eveline, calm down. I’m sorry, okay? I was being an asshole, and I know this, but you have to understand that this isn’t easy for me either. Not instantly having to defend my family from you is not normal from me. You not wanting to tear my throat out just because I am what I am, it’s not normal for me. I suck enough at normal interactions without adding this to the mix.”
“How do you think I feel?”
I try to take a step back but he doesn’t let me, shifting us so that his hands are cupping my face and his forehead is resting against mine as he closes his eyes and sighs. “Damnit, Eveline.”
Lightning strikes in the distance, the thunder rumbling loudly around us. Axel keeps his eyes closed and, for a moment I think he might be thinking, but then wind dies down and I realize that what he is actually doing is talking to himself.
“Don’t be an idiot,” he mumbles under his breath, but I don’t know if he intends for me to hear him or not. “Don’t be an idiot, don’t do it. Go home. Go home and don’t think about it. Do not continue to be an idiot. It is not worth it. Screw it, I’m an idiot.”
His eyes open, instantly flitting down to my mouth.
“Eveline?” My mother comes rushing from the house, hands raised over her head to prevent her perfectly curled hair from being ruined, and Axel moves away from me. “Where have you been? The school called and said that you had missed all of your afternoon classes. I tried to call your phone but it went straight to voicemail.”
Axel takes a step forward, smiling pleasantly at my mother. I mean, the smile is so fake it is ridiculous, but she doesn’t seem bothered by that. “Sorry, Miss Peak, it is my fault. Eveline wasn’t feeling well and, since I still feel horrible about how I treated her last week, I volunteered to take her home. She was going to drive herself but I was worried she might get sick on the way home and I didn’t want her to be alone. I stopped off at home to let my mother know why I had left school and, during that time, Eveline fell asleep on the couch. I planned on having her home sooner but I nodded off while watching television and lost track of time. Please don’t blame her for it, it really is my fault. I can have my mother call you and confirm if you would like.”
“No need.” She looks me up and down. “Still not feeling well? The doctor swore those antibiotics should help.”
Damn, I really wish he would have thought of something else as an excuse. “You know how I get my first day on a new medicine. I am sure I will be fine in a day or two. Thanks for the ride, Axel.”
He nods, climbing into his car as my mother rushes me back inside.