Plain Jane

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3: The Lunch Incident

Jane walked through the doors of the lunchroom, ignoring the strange looks the other students had been giving her, much as she had been doing all day. She wasn’t even halfway through the day yet and she was already so tired. She was tired of her parents, of this town, this school, and she was most especially tired of Lukan staring holes through her, which he’d done during every class they’d had together – which was all of them, like he’d been creepily stalking her or something. She just wanted to hit someone really hard, preferably in their face.

Ever since she’d been bullied in her first year of high school, she’d gotten a bit of a violent streak. Nothing too bad. Just bad enough that when she got angry she had the urge to hit someone.

Sometimes, she did.

Jane looked around for an empty table and stopped short when she saw Lukan already sitting at a table near a window in the back with the other students in the picture she had looked at in Principal Kingsley’s office. Lukan looked up and on seeing her, he smirked arrogantly. Jane growled a little. He knew exactly how to push her buttons and she hated it. He’d done it in every single one of her classes when he stared at her. She didn’t even know how he knew what classes she was taking. It was way too much of a coincidence for him to be in every class that she took. Was he just stalking her?

Great, Jane thought. I haven’t even been here one day and I already have a stalker. My day just keeps getting better and better. Before you know it, I’ll be missing from school and left dead on a highway. I wonder who will clean the house then?

Jane spotted an empty table, which unfortunately happened to be right next to Lukan’s. Jane looked around the entire lunchroom, desperately praying that she wouldn’t be forced to sit at the table next to Lukan and his groupies, which included the three girls from the bathroom.

The redhead was still digging through her coin purse.

Unfortunately the table next to his was the only empty one. If Jane didn’t know better, she would’ve sworn that he’d planned this.

***

Lukan watched with satisfaction as Jane made her way to the table next to his. He couldn’t have planned this better if he’d tried. This strange girl intrigued him, with her obvious disdain of conformity and facades. He enjoyed watching her reactions – the way she glared at him in class for staring at her, the way she slapped him for kissing her, and the desperation in her search for an empty table not next to his. Her passionate dislike of him from the moment they met and her obvious immunity to his charms, the same charms that got him out of every detention and allowed him to skip at least two classes a day without repercussions, was a complete mystery to him, a mystery he had every intention of solving.

Jane sat down in the chair farthest from him, obviously doing her best to pretend he wasn’t there. Lukan’s smirk widened as he leaned over to get closer to her, drawing the attention of his friends.

“You know, if we keep meeting like this, rumors are going to start flying.”

She didn’t even look up. Lukan’s brow furrowed as she put her backpack on the table and pulled out a brown paper bag. She pulled out a sandwich bag with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in it. When she opened the zip lock, Lukan’s eyebrows rose in surprise. He distinctly smelled mint jelly, something not usually paired with peanut butter. He watched Jane and his friends watched him, all parties heartily interested, with the obvious exception of Jane who remained oblivious to them all – or at least she appeared to be.

Lukan was determined to get a reaction out of her, so he continued to try to irritate her.

“You really should stop following me. It’s rather pathetic,” Lukan said, his voice a little more bitter than he would have liked.

When Jane put her sandwich down on the zip lock and sighed, Lukan’s smirk fell back into place, thinking he’d finally gotten a rise out of her. To his chagrin, instead of getting fiery the way she had in the library, she dug around in her still open backpack and pulled out an outdated cassette player and a pair of battered headphones that had Ape Tape wrapped around most of the wiring.

For the first time since Jane had sat down, she looked at him. She held the headphones directly over her ears and then let go, allowing them to snap over her ears, effectively cutting Lukan’s taunting short. She stared at him for a moment before triumphantly picking up her sandwich once more, a smirk stretched over her chapped lips.

Once again, she’d known exactly what to do to get under his skin.

Lukan crossed his arms and sunk into his chair, a frown marring his handsome features. He was going to get a rise out of her if it was the last thing he did.

He didn’t have to wait long.

The sharp, ear-piercing noise of a chair being jerked out from under someone got the attention of everyone in the room, including Jane. Lukan looked at her strangely for a moment, but she was too enthralled in the situation unraveling before her eyes.

Brock Johnson, the quarterback of Lysander High’s football team was up to his old tricks again. If you asked Lukan, that boy needed a good lessen taught to him the hard way, but of course Lukan couldn’t care less. The boy now being tormented wasn’t him or one of his own. Why should he care?

Lukan watched Jane’s look of horror as Brock lifted the boy by the back of his neatly ironed shirt to his feet and shoved him over to another guy in a football uniform. More of Brock’s cronies snickered in the background as the boy begged and pleaded to be left alone, but the stronger boys ignored him and shoved him from one uniformed behemoth to another.

Jane looked around the room as though to see if anyone was going to help the poor boy but all she saw was her fellow students becoming disinterested and turning back to their lunches and conversations as though nothing unusual was happening. Even the teachers remained apathetic.

Lukan saw the look of absolute disgust cross Jane’s face and he sunk into his chair a little, the oddest feeling niggling him. Guilt, maybe?

The feeling only increased when Jane whirled around to look at him expectantly. Lukan wouldn’t look at her. She couldn’t actually expect him to interfere, could she? This was high school. What did she think happened when the ‘cool’ people got bored?

Jane’s expectant look turned to one of anger as she rose up out of her chair, looking as though she was going to tell him exactly what she thought of him. Lukan did look up when instead of speaking, she moved away from her table in the direction of the jocks and their source of entertainment, throwing the headphones off furiously, careless as to where they landed.

Lukan’s eyes widened in horror as Jane tapped Brock Johnson on the shoulder.

She isn’t going to… She couldn’t… Oh, God! She is! She’s going to try to stop this fight herself! Is she insane?

Lukan rose from his seat, knocking the chair down and making his way through the crowd as quickly as he could without drawing attention to himself.

He wasn’t fast enough.

The room went quiet once more as Brock turned around to look at who had disturbed his fun.

No one expected Jane to pull her arm back and land a solid punch to Brock’s nose, breaking it with a single hit.

Lukan could smell the blood as it spurted from the jock’s nose. He backed away, the smell calling to him. He needed to stay out of this fight or a broken nose would be the least of Brock’s worries. Lukan didn’t know why but he felt as though he couldn’t breathe when he realized that he couldn’t help Jane.

She was on her own.

***

Jane couldn’t believe what she was seeing. An innocent boy was being bullied right there in front of them and they all just sat there and did nothing. No one even cared.

Jane whirled around to look at Lukan. He never went with the flow if what she saw of him thus far was accurate. He would do something, if only to be different, surely.

She was disappointed when he wouldn’t even meet her eye. He was a coward just like the rest of them. She was wrong when she thought he was different. It grated on her that she felt disappointed by that.

Jane rose from her chair, having every intention on calling him out on his cowardice, but when she tried the words stuck in her throat. Jane felt tears stinging her eyes. Despite her dislike of him, she had believed that in some way she was less alone for Lukan being at this school. He was the only one who hadn’t been a cut out copy of everyone else - the only one who was anything at all like her. Jane’s sadness and feeling of betrayal turned to hot white anger as it always did.

It was her one method of defense when she was hurt: hurt right back.

A grunt behind her got her attention, and suddenly her anger was pointed in another direction.

It seemed she would get to hit someone today after all.

Jane could feel the eyes watching her as she tapped the douche bag bully on the shoulder. When he turned around, obviously angry at the interruption, Jane placed a well-aimed hit to his nose, breaking it in one solid strike.

He hadn’t seen it coming. The surprise of it alone sent him reeling, as did the shocking amount of strength behind it, landing him on the ground.

Every student in the room seemed to stop breathing. A girl of her size couldn’t be strong enough to do what she had done. Could she?

Anticipation laced the room as Brock stared up at Jane in shock, blood still streaming down his nose. The geek who had been the center of negative attention now stood forgotten next to the jocks that had tormented him only moments ago, all equal in their shock.

Lukan stood a little way behind Jane, keeping his distance like the coward he was, waiting to see what Brock would do in retaliation.

But it wasn’t Brock who spoke first.

“That was a warning. The next time, I won’t pull my punch. And I won’t stop at one hit.”

Not waiting for a reply, Jane turned on her heel and walked over to the geek.

“You okay?” she asked. The boy nodded numbly. Jane smiled at him. “I’m Jane. You?”

Jane held her hand out and he took it slowly, obviously trying to gather his thoughts enough to answer.

“I- I’m Gary,” the boy said, stuttering a little, as though it was the first time he’d talked to a girl in a long time.

“Nice to meet you, Gary. So, you like comic books?” Jane asked offhandedly.

Gary looked at her oddly. Jane made a gesture towards the black T-shirt now open to view because the buttons of his blue polo shirt were ripped off. The T-shirt had white lettering that read: ‘There’s no rehab for comic book junkies.’ Gary shuffled his feet, plainly embarrassed.

“I’m a bit of a Marvel brat myself. X-men and such,” Jane said with an easy smile as the world watched in surprise.

Gary’s head shot up so fast Jane could swear she heard his neck crack a little.

You like comic books? But- But you’re a girl.”

Gary sounded nothing short of scandalized.

Jane rolled her eyes. That’s when you know you’re in a small town. She would have to educate this poor unfortunate soul on the tragedies of sexism in the comic book world.

“Why don’t you grab your lunch tray and we can discuss this at my table,” she said.

Gary looked more than a little surprised at this offer, obviously not used to people wanting to associate with him. He opened his mouth to say something, but Jane was already walking away. She turned around for a moment.

“Well, come on if you’re coming.”

Gary grabbed his stuff and ran to catch up with her.

They spent the entire rest of lunch period talking about the popularity of comic books amongst females. Everyone else just seemed in shock.

When his buddies tried to help him up, Brock just shook them off, angry that he had been too shocked to ‘take care’ of Jane properly.

***

Lukan had sat back down at his table, his friends giving him curious and concerned looks, especially Sofiya. She would undoubtedly be asking him all manner of questions later.

Lukan spent the rest of his lunch period watching Jane and her new companion. He didn’t know why, but their occasional laughter grated on him. He kept sinking lower and lower in his chair until he nearly fell out of it, earning a few stifled laughs from his friends and a concerned look from Sofiya. He scowled at them all, silencing them.

He turned his attention back to Jane and Gary. Lukan tried to tell himself that it was just the pitch of their laughter that irritated him. It wasn’t that Gary was making her laugh while all he did was make her angry. Yeah, it’s just the pitch. That’s all. Just the pitch.

Another gale of rambunctious laughter from the duo made Lukan sink into his chair again, not caring if he fell from it.

Yeah, right...

***

Jane left the lunchroom quickly, late for class after losing track of time whilst talking to Gary. He was the first person she had talked to that actually had half a mind of his own – she no longer counted Lukan after the lunchroom incident.

She was still bothered by Lukan’s indifference, though she couldn’t quite understand why. She supposed that somewhere inside her, she thought it rather nice not to be completely unique in her anti-conformity campaign. After all, Gary was great and all but he still went with the status quo on everything. He sat at the table he was expected to sit at. He wore the clothes he was expected to wear. He even allowed himself to be bullied – all because it was expected of him.

Jane would fix that quickly enough, that was for sure.

Jane sighed. This school was due for a huge attitude makeover and she had no idea if she’d be able to do that in a single school year. Of course, that wasn’t about to stop her from trying

Jane walked into Biology with a heavy sense of dread. She hated science with a passion that could whither even the strongest and most determined of science professors.

As she sat down at the very back table, she was glad that the teacher hadn’t arrived yet. It would give her time to brace herself for the coming onslaught of useless drivel that she was about to endure.

Why couldn’t they replace Bio Lab with something useful, like an extra period of English Lit? she thought mournfully.

The teacher, a sharp-featured man of average height by the name of Mr. Smithers, walked in six minutes late and went straight to his desk before looking up at his students. He was fairly young, Jane noticed, and had he not been glowering he might actually have been quite handsome in a nerdy, professor-like way.

He had light brown hair with natural golden highlights and was wearing wire-rimmed rectangular glasses. His jaw was clenched in obvious irritation and his face seemed flushed.

Here it comes, Jane thought, squeezing her eyes shut against the first blow to her sanity.

“Jane Parker?”

Jane opened one eye to look at the man addressing her.

Huh?

“Yes, sir?” she said, opening both her eyes and sitting up straight.

“Principal Kingsley wishes to address you in private. You know where her office is I assume?” Mr. Smithers said frostily.

He didn’t like her. Jane could see that right off the bat. She opened her mouth to reply when someone spoke from the doorway.

“I’ll take Ms. Parker to Principal Kingsley’s office, Mr. Smithers.”

Jane looked up to see Lukan staring right at her, his usual arrogant smirk in place. Suddenly an hour of Biology was looking like a tea party in comparison to having to be alone with Lukan for one minute.

She hastily tried to get herself out of Lukan’s ‘guidance.’

“Oh, no, that won’t be necess-“

“That would be very helpful, Mr. Masters,” Mr. Smithers said, eyeing the young man coolly.

He didn’t like Lukan either obviously. Jane wondered if she and Smithers didn’t have more in common than she had first thought… until she realized exactly what he had said.

Jane’s attention snapped to him very quickly.

“But, Mr. Smithers-“

“Gather your things, Ms. Parker. You may not make it back before the end of class.”
Sighing, Jane glared at Lukan as she put her Biology book back into her backpack, zipping it up and throwing it over her shoulder. She trudged to the front of the classroom, ignoring the occasional giggle or snort she heard from her fellow students, any of whom she would have gladly traded places with at the moment.

Jane wanted nothing more than to beat the daylights out of Mr. Smithers, Principal Kingsley, and most especially Lukan Masters.
They walked out into the hall in silence, Mr. Smithers shutting the door sharply behind them. They stood there for a very brief moment before Jane started walking briskly down the hall, not even waiting for Lukan.

“Are you coming or not?” Jane said over her shoulder tauntingly.

She could hear the smirk in the arrogant young man’s voice when he spoke.

“Well, I would, but Lilith’s office happens to be in the opposite direction.”
Jane stopped short, a blush swiftly rising to her cheeks. Swallowing the feeling of embarrassment, Jane promptly turned around to see Lukan leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, his smirk, as always, in place. Resisting the urge to give him the same treatment she had given that jock earlier, Jane began nearly jogging down the hall in order to put as much space between them as possible.

Unfortunately, he had little trouble keeping pace.

“You can’t ignore me forever you know.”

Jane glanced over to her right to find Lukan walking at a mildly quick rate, his long legs having a clear advantage over her shorter ones.

“I can try,” Jane said, quickening her pace.

It didn’t have the effect desired as he just matched her pace, staying beside her.

“This is rather childish, don’t you think?” Lukan stated after continuing their breakneck pace for several minutes.

Jane didn’t reply, continuing her speed unwaveringly.

Lukan growled in frustration.

“Why the hell are you so damn stubborn?”

“Why are you such an arrogant jerk?”

“Talking to me now, are you?” Lukan said sarcastically.

Jane stopped in her tracks and so did Lukan. Jane sighed. She really wasn’t in the mood for this.

“Look, why don’t you just leave me alone? I don’t know why you find me so fascinating that you have to keep bugging me, but I’d really appreciate it if you found some new source of entertainment,” she snapped irritably.

***

There it was: the fire in her eyes that Lukan had been waiting to see again since right before he’d kissed her. Her eyes seemed to light up with it, becoming a darker, bluer color, deeper than the color of the sky at the witching hour. Silver and opalescent flecks seemed to twinkle like stars, fiery but cold – her eyes seemed to change completely.

She looked almost beautiful then, her eyes lit up, a fierce scowl on her face. She looked like a predator.

It was then that Lukan realized that despite his own vanity and her general plainness, he found her attractive. Or more accurately, he found her fire, her spirit, attractive.

It was a very important moment in Lukan’s life, though it would be a long time before he knew why.

***

“Hellooooo? Are you still in there?” Jane waved her hand in front of Lukan’s face, trying to get his attention. She was getting more than a little creeped out by him staring at her like she was the only person in existence besides himself.

Lukan shook himself from his reverie.
What?” he snapped at her, hiding his embarrassment with irritation.

Jane looked taken aback for a moment.
“Dude, you are such a creeper,” she said, looking at him like he was a being from another planet.
Lukan rolled his eyes at her.
“Lilith’s office is just around the corner, inside the administration office. It’s the first door on the left. Think you can find it without getting lost?”
“I have been there before, you know,” Jane said irately. “And why do you call Principal Kingsley by her first name, anyway?”
Lukan looked taken aback at the unexpected question.
“None of your business,” he said apparently not being able to think of an appropriate answer.
“Well, that’s original.”
“Whatever.”
“Once again, original, Masters.”
They lapsed into an awkward silence, Jane shuffling her feet, Lukan rubbing the back of his neck, neither looking at each other.
“I’d better go,” Jane said.

Lukan’s head shot up to look at her.

“Principal Kingsley will be waiting for me,” she said.

“Yeah,” Lukan said, exhaling deeply. “I should be heading back to class anyway.”

Jane nodded and turned, walking down the rest of the hall and around the corner without looking back.

When Jane walked in, she was doing her absolute best not to think about the way Lukan got under her skin. It wouldn’t do for her to get all flustered when Principal Kingsley suspended her for hitting that worthless punk in the lunchroom, as Kingsley would no doubt do. Jane could think of no other reason Principal Kingsley would pull Jane out of class as she had done.

Jane walked up to Principal Kingsley’s secretary and told her why she was here.

“Go right in,” the woman ordered.

Jane sneered at the woman and walked to the office door, knocking firmly. Principal Kingsley’s voice bid her enter.

Jane took a deep breath and braced herself against whatever punishment was to come before turning the handle. The warmth of the office once again struck Jane as out of place in a school like this one. Jane saw Principal Kingsley sitting at her desk, the lovely woman’s unnaturally crimson hair standing out vividly against the cream colored walls.

The older woman looked up, surprising Jane with a brilliant smile.

“Jane! I thought you would never come. Please, do come in.”

Principal Kingsley rose from her seat and came around the desk, gesturing to a comfortable-looking armchair in front of it. Jane took a seat in it, all the while eyeing her principal curiously.

“Yeah, sorry about that. I was… delayed,” Jane said, thinking on her uncomfortable parting with Lukan.

Principal Kingsley leaned on the desk, crossing her arms in a way that disturbingly reminded Jane of Masters, minus the arrogant smirk.

“So, Jane, how has your first day been thus far?”

Jane raised her eyebrows in disbelief. This is why I was pulled from class and had to endure Masters’ arrogance again?

“Principal Kingsley, you didn’t really get me out of class just to ask how my first day was, did you?” Jane asked with a raised eyebrow. “I mean, with all due respect, that seems pretty… odd.”

Principal Kingsley gave a soft smile, a strange look in her eyes, almost resembling… pride? Okay, that’s kinda weird, Jane thought mildly.

“You have a good head on your shoulders, Jane. You always seem to be thinking on your feet.”

With that, the older woman dropped her arms to her sides and walked back around the desk, sitting down in her office chair. Kingsley folded her hands and continued on calmly.

“Though, I think you do not always think things through before you act, you seem to have a heart for protecting others. I heard about what happened in the lunchroom this afternoon, Jane, and I must say that, although I don’t generally approve of violence, I am very proud of you,” Kingsley said with a smile.

Jane blanched.

“You’re what?”

“Proud, Jane. Out of everyone in that lunchroom, you were the only one who stood up for that boy. And not only did you stand up for him, you greatly risked your own personal welfare to do it. I don’t think anyone has ever taken on Brock Johnson, least of all a girl, and I must say that I am quite glad to find myself completely justified in my good opinion of you. I want to thank you for your courage in doing the right thing when no one else would.”

Jane’s mouth formed a little ‘o’, and she found that she couldn’t speak. No teacher, let alone principal, had ever thanked her for decking another student – as she had done many times before – regardless of her reasons.

“Bullying is not tolerated at this school,” Principal Kingsley continued solemnly. “At least not by myself. Did you know that there were two teachers who witnessed what happened in the lunchroom but did nothing?”

The older woman looked appalled at the idea, and Jane was feeling rather inclined to share her sentiment.

“Was Mr. Smithers one of them?” Jane asked suspiciously.

Kingsley’s eyes widened in surprise, but surprise soon changed places with pride.

“You really are quite intuitive,” Kingsley said, a pleased smile pleasantly gracing her full lips. “Yes, Mr. Smithers was one of the teachers, and believe me when I say that I had a good, long chat with him, reinforcing in his mind the school’s policy on bullying, and also be assured that Mr. Johnson will receive a similar lecture along with a two week suspension.”

Well, that at least explains Smithers, Jane thought wryly.

She, of course, realized that she wasn’t quite off the hook yet though.

“That isn’t the only reason you called me in here, is it?” Jane asked. “What’s the school’s policy on decking a guy for being a bullying coward?”

Jane had a sneaking suspicion that whatever it was, it wasn’t good, and if the look on Principal Kingsley’s face was anything to tell by, Jane’s suspicions were justified.

A blush had risen to Kingsley’s face, and she shifted in her chair uncomfortably.

“In your case Jane, the school’s policy is for you to take the rest of the day and tomorrow off. You see, Mr. Johnson’s parents will not see your defense of Gary Steiner the same way that I do. All they would see is a young woman breaking their son’s nose and getting off… well, scott free for lack of a better phrase. You do understand, do you not, Jane? I really do not wish to do this, but if I do not I am afraid the Johnsons will take it into their heads to contact Mr. and Mrs. Parker themselves, and I imagine you would rather keep them out of this, as would I.”

The poor woman looked so utterly miserable and tormented over having to suspend Jane, even for a day and a half that even if Jane hadn’t understood Kingsley’s position she wouldn’t have said anything about it. Besides, even if she did miss one day of English, she would still get two days off from Bio Lab, which in Jane’s opinion was worth missing her favorite subject for.

“I understand. To be honest, I think you’re handling all this really well. My old principal, Mr. Barkley, would’ve laid into me about hitting Johnson, even if he had agreed with what I did, just because of the trouble Johnson’s parents would cause. And you really won’t say anything to my parents, will you?” Jane asked hopefully.

Jane watched the relief wash over Kingsley.

“Of course I won’t, Jane. They do not even have to know. Just leave your parents’ house at the usual time and explore the surrounding area to your heart’s content. You like to write, don’t you? I believe that Mrs. Parker mentioned that.” Jane nodded. “Well, you could take your writing supplies and take to the woods. We have such beautiful scenery around here that you are sure to find a nice, quiet spot.”

“Thank you, Principal Kingsley. I’ll be sure and do that,” Jane said gratefully.

“Oh, please call me Lilith. All my… favorites do,” Principal Kingsley said, gesturing to the picture that had given Jane her first impression of Lukan.

Jane looked at her principal oddly.

“Am… Am I one of your favorites?” Jane asked hesitantly. Jane couldn’t help fear the rejection of a ‘no,’ regardless of how short a time she had known Kingsley- Lilith.

Lilith smiled fondly, reaching out and pushing Jane’s long, blackish hair out of her eyes.

“Yes, Jane,” Lilith said, looking fondly at Jane. “You are one of my favorites.”

Jane’s heart gave a sudden, unexpected leap for joy. The way that this woman looked at her now was the way Jane had always longed to be looked at by her mother. There was such a deep affection, almost love, in her principal’s liquid amber eyes. It made Jane feel accepted and empty all at the same time. Her principal was fond of her, but she wasn’t Jane’s mother, and Mrs. Parker would never look at her the way Lilith looked at her now.

Swallowing the pain, Jane gave her principal the brightest and most brilliant of smiles.

“Glad to hear it,” Jane said with forced happiness in her voice.

Both Jane and Lilith looked into each other’s eyes for a long moment, both wishing that Lilith, not Mrs. Parker, was the mother Jane had grown up knowing, both for very different reasons.

***

The walk home was taken with leisure and ease. No race to get back to get dinner ready and on the stove. No yelling parents to hurry home to – if you could call that place Jane’s home.

Fortunately for Jane, both her parents were at a business lunch/golf thing with the vice president of Mr. Parker’s advertisement agency. They wouldn’t be back until dinner time and Jane would have the entire house all to herself until they got back. She could get loads of writing done with the five or six hours she had before her parents got back to the house. Jane could have complete peace while cooking dinner, unlike she usually did when her parents would shout from whatever room they were in that she was taking forever, along with multiple insults that would very likely shock the pants off of the Mr. Vice President that was having lunch with her charming parents that afternoon.

Jane was by no means the type for a Cinderella-complex – she hated self-pity – but sometimes Jane had to hope that her beat-up typewriter would one day turn into a Porsche and speed her off to meet her own special Prince Charming, so that he could fall in love with her and whisk her away to his beachfront mansion in San Francisco or his upper East Side apartment in New York. Then again, Jane wasn’t exactly the fairytale type either. After all, at least Cindy was a looker underneath the rags and ashes. Jane didn’t even have that going for her. All she had was her big, fat brain, and she had every intention of using to her advantage. Jane had vowed to get a scholarship to any college that would have her, even if it was the death of her. She had to get away from her parents.

Jane walked up to the old Moncrieffe place and unlocked the door, stepping inside. She removed her coat and hung it on the coat rack near the entryway and quickly bounded up the stairs to her attic room.

Opening the door, she made her way around the boxes as best she could, almost tripping a few times. When Jane reached her bed, she unceremoniously plopped down on it, not even bothering to remove her black sneakers.

She hadn’t even finished out a whole day at St. Defendens High and already she was exhausted. Meeting Lukan Masters alone had taken a lot out of her, not to mention the lunchroom incident, her visit with Principal Kings- Lilith – and the odd feelings it awoke within her.

A thought randomly occurred to Jane that she found rather odd: Lilith never once said, ‘your parents’ when talking to her. Lilith only ever referred to her mom and dad as, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Parker,’ and then Lilith’s voice always seemed to grow a degree colder when she spoke their names. Everything about Lilith’s behavior struck Jane as odd, now that she thought about it. The way Lilith seemed so eager to please Jane, and how tormented and miserable she was when she couldn’t, like when she had had to suspend Jane.

It doesn’t matter! Jane thought fiercely. She likes me just as I am and doesn’t want to change me. Why should I care if she’s a bit odd?

The sound of Mr. Parker’s slightly used, recently purchased Mercedes Benz startled Jane from her thoughts.

Jane rushed to the only window in the attic, which looked down on the driveway and the road parallel to the front of the house to see her parents, who shouldn’t have been home for at least a few hours, pulling into the juniper-lined cement driveway.

Jane watched in a dreadful panic as her mother and father parked and climbed out, looking none too pleased.

“Damn it!” Jane said aloud. “What the hell are they doing home?”

***

Mrs. Parker paused for a moment on the drive. She suddenly looked up at the attic window… where Jane still stood watching. Jane quickly ducked, but it was too late. Mrs. Parker hastily ran to the front door as well as she could in her very impractical black stilettos and unlocked it, Mr. Parker entering slowly behind, talking business on his cell phone.

Mrs. Parker rushed into the house, pausing only a second on seeing Jane’s coat hanging on the coat rack. Mrs. Parker bounded up the stairs furiously, trying desperately not to lose her balance.

“I know you’re here, Jane. Your coat is hanging on the coat rack. What did you do this time? I swear, if you got in another fight, I’ll…” Mrs. Parker burst through the door of Jane’s room imperially to find the thoroughly cleaned but hopelessly cluttered space unoccupied.

Confused and suspicious, she slowly walked around the boxes, swatting away imagined cobwebs, and made her way around Jane’s bed to the circular window. It was open ever so slightly, a wispy breeze leaking through the small opening. Mrs. Parker opened it, looking down suspiciously on the neighborhood. Everything seemed just as it ought to have been, except that a dog was getting into Mrs. Garret’s azaleas again.

With a huff of frustration, Mrs. Parker shut the window.

“I could’ve sworn I saw her put that coat on this morning…” she murmured.

Walking out of the room, she shut the door behind her.

***

Once Mrs. Parker left Jane’s room, a sigh of relief could be heard outside the window, on the roof of the Victorian house. Jane sank further down on the shingles, confident in her past experience of hiding on rooftops to avoid her parents.

Realizing that anyone outside would be able to see her and inform her parents of her presence on the roof of their house, Jane rose and walked across the shingles past her window and to the oak tree on the left side of the house, which had the least amount of windows on it. The tree was several feet away from where Jane stood at the edge, but she made the leap confidently, landing perfectly on a thick limb, her knees bent, feet close together, and her arms spread out to balance her.

She really was too good at this. It was almost strange.

Jane jumped from branch to branch, instinctively knowing which ones would hold her weight, and finally she jumped to the ground. Jane shifted the weight of her back pack on her shoulders, having had good enough sense to grab it before her mother made her way to her room. She supposed she would just have to explore a bit. Maybe she could find a good place to spend the next day of freedom.

***

Jane walked down the road at an easy pace as the chilly autumn wind rustled the multi-colored leaves of trees. She must have walked for nearly a mile and the fence lined with trees behind it still continued, with no apparent end in sight. There were signs nailed to it every few yards or so stating things like, “STAY OUT!” or “TRESSPASSERS WILL BE PERSECUTED TO THE FULLEST EXTENT OF THE LAW OR SHOT UNTIL DEAD!” in big, bold black lettering.

Jane supposed she ought to have been intimidated by that but her curiosity was getting the better of her and she was just dying to see what was on the other side of the wooden fence.

Jane spotted a board in the fence that was loose. She pushed it aside and a small hole formed at the bottom in between the boards.

Ignoring the fact that destruction of personal property was illegal and carried a fairly heavy punishment should she be caught, Jane yanked the board off, and then another one after that. She knelt down and tried to shimmy her way through the still small hole. Her backpack got in the way so she removed it quickly, looking around in case someone saw her. The road was empty in a peaceful sort of way and no houses littered the small stretch of road.

A bit late to get scared now anyway, she thought dryly.

Satisfied that she was safe from observation, Jane tried again to get under the fence. She shimmied in the soft earth, not caring that she would be covered in mud afterwards.

After all, her life was hardly a fashion contest.
It was no trouble this time to get through and Jane was on the other side in a second. She pulled her backpack through from the other side. She put her backpack on and rose from the ground, looking around her at the forest she was now in.

Different colored leaves littered the ground around Jane and squished into the ground under her feet as she began walking in the opposite direction of the fence. A thrill of excitement went down Jane’s spine. She could be caught at any moment and the danger gave her a strange feeling of excitement. A part of her mind kept telling her to go back – that it was too dangerous, the cost too high if she was caught.

You could be thrown in jail, a voice whispered in the back of her mind. What will your parents do to you if they have to bail you out of the hoosegow?

That thought nearly caused Jane to turn back, but her rebellious spirit told the little voice to take a hike and she continued on her way, ignoring the whispers of danger.
The forest floor was dark and moist, months of rain still stored in the earth. The trees were so thick that no light shone through them, leaving Jane in semi-darkness. The farther in she got the darker it seemed to grow, a feeling of foreboding growing along with it. Leaves rustled and moved when there was no wind. Twigs snapped behind Jane but when she turned to look, no one was there.

And then she heard a deep, sinister growl.

Jane started walking more quickly and with every step she took, the voice of warning grew more and more insistent, taking on new dangers. There could be wolves in here - rabid wolves. If you get eaten, will anyone find what’s left of you, or will your rotting remains stay here and no know what happened to you? Will you just be ‘that girl who disappeared?’
Jane walked faster and faster, eventually breaking into a run. This is what I get for deciding to be rebellious, Jane thought miserably.

The forest brought out a feeling in her that reminded her far too much of the feeling her strange dreams evoked in her – helplessness and fear. Jane hated feeling helpless and she hated being afraid, especially when there wasn’t really any reason to be afraid – unless the thought of a trip to the hoosegow gave you goosebumps, that is.

Jane could hear more rustling behind her, then next to her, and then behind her again – it seemed like it was everywhere.

Jane looked back and lost her footing on a gnarled root that seemed as though it had reached out deliberately, only just catching herself before a nasty fall.

She continued to run, her speed so fast that the trees became nothing but blurs in her vision. She darted in between willows, maples and oaks, hoping to lose whatever she thought might be following her.

And then she was in a field of the greenest grass she had ever seen, the bright sun blinding her for a moment. She had been running so fast that she hadn’t even seen the end of the thick forest before coming out of it.

When Jane could see properly again, she looked back at the forest behind her. If something had been following her it must have decided to remain hidden from her in the thick coverage of the forest, because she couldn’t see a thing. It looked rather peaceful actually.

Jane suddenly felt very sheepish, and a blush rose from her chest up her neck, settling itself on her face. Stupid overactive imagination…
Jane turned back around to look at where she was.

As she had first noticed, she was surrounded by a field of freshly cut, bright green grass, but what she hadn’t noticed before was the mansion in front of her. Jane blanched as she took in the sight of the milky white colonial structure with four columns supporting the front, surrounded by a terrace adorned with decorative planters full of hundreds of varieties of flowers. Roses, perennials, tulips, forget-me-nots, azaleas, rhododendrons, the list went on and on. All the flowers were mixed in a mishmash order, providing bursts of color, yet it seemed as though each plant had been placed with care.
There was a gravel driveway that started at the porch steps and continued for some time, curving this way and that, and eventually curving around the forest until it was out of Jane’s view. To her left was a large glass hothouse, the glass glittering in the sunlight. Jane could see the exotic and more foreign plants, including an elaborate kind of Venus fly trap and a bright pink variety of snapdragon.
Jane was pulled out of her observation when she heard rustling and a low growl behind her. She spun around and saw a very large wolf with ebony fur slowly walking out from in between the trees.

Jane swore her heart stopped beating when her gaze met the wolf’s opalescent white eyes – eyes the same exact color as the man in her dreams.

The wolf lowered its body to the ground and took another step forward ominously, Jane taking a step back. This seemed to irritate the wolf. Its ears went back and it growled, looking as though it was about to pounce at any moment.

The sound of tires crunching gravel echoed through the open space from the drive past the point where it could no longer be seen from Jane’s position, drawing the attention of both the wolf and Jane.

Jane couldn’t explain it but she could… see the car and the people in it.

The car was a Porsche, and Lukan Masters was in the driver’s seat, brooding as ever while his friends laughed wildly in the back like normal rowdy teenagers. It was so vivid that if Jane didn’t know better, she would have sworn that she was actually there, in the car with them.

Jane suddenly heard a frustrated growl and then she was back on the lawn, facing a furious and very rabid-looking wolf. He – Jane knew that it was a he, though she didn’t know how – snarled in the direction of the car and began slowly backing away until all but his shining eyes were out of sight.
The car was coming up fast and Jane suddenly realized how out in the open she was. Visions of a dark jail cell filled with tattooed women with brightly colored mohawks pounding their fists into their hands menacingly as she was being dragged into the cell by a merciless police officer, while in the background her parents voices could be heard declining to bail her out, filled Jane’s mind vividly.

Panicking, she dashed to the hothouse, just making it inside as Masters drove the Porsche up the driveway. Jane hid behind the vast collection of plants at the glass wall farthest from Lukan, but she could still see him and his friends clearly as they came to a stop almost directly in front of the porch steps. Jane saw a breeze waft through the trees in the direction of Masters.

Suddenly his head snapped up… and he was looking right in her direction.

***

It can’t be, Lukan thought in disbelief. It can’t be her

Lukan refused to believe it was Jane Parker’s scent that he smelled on the crisp autumn wind – refused to believe that she had invaded his home as she had been invading his mind all day. She’d even made him lose it so much that he’d kissed her!

When Jane hadn’t shown up to her next scheduled class, Lukan had been strangely worried, though at a loss as to why, so he had asked the teacher for a bathroom pass and made his way to Lilith’s office. He had been furious when he’d heard that Lilith had suspended her, even if it was only for two days. After how bravely Jane had stood up for that spineless geek she deserved a medal, not a suspension on her record. Lilith had explained her reasons for the suspension and how well Jane had taken it, but that had only made Lukan even more furious.

He hadn’t stopped thinking about Jane since. It seemed as though nothing could distract him from her, not even writing in his journal violently, which could usually distract him from anything. He didn’t know why she so fascinated him. She was plain, she made no effort in her appearance – a serious failing in Lukan’s opinion – she was independent, sarcastic, rebellious, jumped into danger without thought, and was the most exciting thing to catch Lukan’s attention since he’d discovered the joys of people-watching which – besides writing, reading, and school – was all he ever really did, which was why supposing he had imagined her scent on the breeze wasn’t too farfetched, and yet he could still smell her with every waft of wind that blew in his direction.

“Do you smell that?” Lukan asked his friends quietly, who were now getting out of his car, without looking at them.

They stopped and smelled the air. The group froze, looking at each other in horror at the familiar scent of Jane Parker.

Sofiya looked at Lukan knowingly.
“What are you going to do?” she asked him worriedly.
“I don’t know,” Lukan said, his attention barely on his best friend.

He looked out solemnly at the forest and then at the hothouse. She could only be in one of the two places, probably the hothouse as the scent was too fresh for her to have gotten very far. Lukan opened his door and got out, walking toward the hothouse resignedly.
“Go into the house. I’ll take care of it.”

It was an order, and by the tone of his voice, there was absolutely no room for negotiation. Only his best friend would dare hesitate in disobedience.
“Lukan?” Sofiya called after him, causing him to stop but not turn around. “You won’t do anything… mean, will you? Like the last time we had an intruder?”

Lukan smiled. He remembered that poor, unsuspecting man vividly, though Lukan still held to his opinion that the broken legs were the man’s deserved punishment for knowingly trespassing on their property.

“I won’t break anything this time.”

Promise?” Sofiya prodded.
Lukan rolled his eyes dramatically, knowing that although they weren’t facing each other, she would know that he had.
“Promise,” he said a little snidely. “Now go into the house. I’ll be in when I can.”
Sofiya turned and went inside the house with the others, though not without significant hesitance.

He knew she knew that there was going to be trouble.
Lukan continued walking toward the hothouse, a frightening gleam in his eye. Sofiya was right to be worried.

***

Jane watched the whole thing take place from behind a strange white puffball-type of flower, though she didn’t really have any idea what was going on except that Lukan was coming toward the hothouse – and fast. With all the plants and flowers she was hiding behind, Jane dared to hope that he simply wouldn’t see her, but even she knew that it was a fool’s hope.

Jane had always had rotten luck.
The hothouse door opened swiftly, causing a wind to rustle the flowers a little. Masters stood for a moment, seemingly smelling the beautiful perfume of the flowers around him, but after a moment his gaze fell on the exact spot where Jane had hidden herself. A frown creased his arrogant brow, and he stalked over to where Jane was.

She closed her eyes. Don’t see me, she mentally pleaded. Don’t see me, don’tseeme, don’tseeme, pleasedon’tseeme…

Jane chanted it over and over again but it was useless.
She felt a swift rush of air as the flowers covering her face were swept aside and she knew that she’d been found. She slowly peeked one eye open to see a pair of tailored black denim jeans. Jane opened the other eye and looked up to see Masters’ too-calm eyes staring down at her, his face a blank slate.

She gave a sheepish smile and a nervous laugh.
“Hi?” she offered.
Masters’ calm demeanor snapped, and was quickly replaced with absolute fury. If looks could kill, it would’ve been very likely that Jane would have been nothing more than a pile of smoldering ash at that moment.

“What are you doing here?” Masters’ gritted out with barely leashed rage, wisps of black hair hanging in his eyes.

“I- I was just looking at these really cool puffy plants,” Jane said in hopes of diverting his attention. “Pretty awesome, huh?”

She pointed to the white flowers Masters was still holding aside, rising from her position on the ground at the same time. Her remark only seemed to irritate him.

“That is not what I meant and you know it! What are you doing here? On this property? I’d be every bit in the right if I just shot you right now! At the very least, I could have you thrown in jail!”

The last word rang in Jane’s ears and the tattooed women appeared in her vision. A scowl appeared on her face. Fear always made her angry and gave her the brass to stand up for herself, even when she was the one in the wrong.

“Well, it’s your own damn fault for not keeping your own damn fences mended!” Jane shouted, not mentioning the fact that she had ripped off two fence posts.

***

Lukan was taken aback by her sudden switch from deer-in-the-headlights to raging, ticked-off female.

Maybe it was the fire in her eyes or the way she jutted her chin out rebelliously, or even the way she stood on her tip toes to get in his face, but in that moment she was the most exquisite creature he’d ever laid eyes on.

Something inside him snapped, and his blood was like fire, releasing the animal within him. He picked Jane up by the waist and threw her over his shoulder, caveman-style. Had he been more in control and in the mood for humor, he might have uttered an, “Ug!” but as it was he was barely sane at the moment.
What the hell do you think you’re DOING!?” Jane screamed, hitting his back with her fists, surprising him when it hurt a little.

When she started kicking, Lukan secured her legs by putting his arm around them.
“Taking you into the house to wait for Lilith. She can deal with you,” he said, trying to convince himself as much as her.

Jane went still for a minute.
She lives here too?
“Yes.”
Jane seemed to get over the shock and began fighting him again as he tried to walk out the hothouse’s door.
“I swear, if you don’t stop hitting me, I’ll bend you over my knee and spank you!”
“If you plan on having children in the future, you’d better not!” Jane threatened over her shoulder, still kicking and fighting.
Lukan was a little surprised by her indirect threat and would have laughed at it, but damn it, she hit hard!
Try me,” Lukan said menacingly.
He was a little surprised that she stopped fighting him, a dramatic huff of resignation leaving her pouting lips as she settled herself more comfortably on his shoulder.
“No gentleman would treat a female in such a way,” Jane said as Lukan carried her in the house, putting them in a beautiful foyer.
That remark pricked Lukan’s conscience but he’d be hanged if he let her know that.
“I notice that you carefully avoided the word ‘lady,’” he said coldly.
Jane sighed in what could only be described as a longsuffering manner.
“I have to be a woman before I can be a lady, and I’m not even seventeen yet,” she explained impatiently.
That remark got Lukan’s attention as he walked into the house and he would have been more than happy to prod her into going further into explaining that unusual theory but his best friend’s shrieking voice stopped him.
“LUKAN MASTERS! PUT HER DOWN THIS MINUTE!!!
Lukan skidded to a halt, nearly launching Jane from her place on his shoulder. He turned to see Sofiya stalking toward him menacingly.
“That is not how we treat our guests!” she shouted furiously.
“Guest? She’s not a guest, she’s a trespasser! I caught her red-handed, and you know it!” Lukan shouted back.
“That is completely beside the point. And besides, you promised, Lukan!”
“Does she look like she has broken legs to you?”
Lukan rolled his eyes at Sofiya. He hadn’t any intention of hurting Jane. Then again, he hadn’t intended to throw her over his shoulder either.

He could feel Jane tense at his remark and irritation set in.
“I can’t imagine why else you would be carrying her over your shoulders… like a sack of potatoes!” Sofiya barked. “Now put her down or I’ll flatten you!”
Sofiya shook her fist to emphasize her meaning. Lukan knew from personal experience that the five foot three Vietnamese girl was well able to carry out that threat and decided that it was in the best interest of his health to cooperate with her.

With a melodramatic sigh he slowly bent down and gently lowered Jane to her feet. She swayed for a moment and Lukan reached out to steady her. His gut clenched painfully when she flinched at his touch and brushed him off. He put his hand back down at his side, mentally cursing himself for getting carried away.
“Are you okay? I didn’t hurt you, did I?” he asked, trying to mask the concern in his voice.

If Sofiya’s shocked look was anything to tell by, he had obviously failed. Jane however wasn’t anywhere near as impressed with his concern.
“I’m fine, no thanks to you. I’m not made of porcelain you know,” she said, her tone like a knife, cutting him in just the right way to make him hate himself.
Without a word, he walked away. He really needed to just brood for a while.

***

Jane watched Lukan go, nowhere near as angry with him as she’d pretended to be. It had been rather hot actually – the way he’d thrown her over his shoulders like that.

Jane had never liked the idea of a caveman romance, but for some reason she couldn’t explain, it had just been hot. She would rather have died a slow and painful death, having her fingernails ripped out while she went slowly, than admitting to him that she had thought the words ‘hot’ and ‘him’ in the same sentence.

As if that boy’s head wasn’t swollen enough already, heaven only knew what he’d do with something like that.
The sound of a throat being cleared brought Jane back to the real world.

She turned around to see Sofiya looking at her with her arms crossed and eyebrows raised in a knowing way with a matching smirk that would have really bugged Jane had it come from someone other than the girl before her.

After all, it was pretty hard to be mad at someone wearing a sunny yellow mini-dress with matching pumps and beret.
“Your friend’s a jerk, you know that?” Jane said, forcing irritation into her tone.
“I know,” the young woman said brightly. “Are you hungry?”

***

Jane had just spent the last two hours sitting at the counter in the massive kitchen on a barstool being force-fed myriad foods by Sofiya, who had saved her earlier from Lukan’s possibly dark intentions. Actually, it seemed as though everyone in the mansion had at some point been in the kitchen at least twice, each time piling masses of food on plates and watching her curiously as they left.

Sofiya had managed to get Jane’s entire life story out of her in that hour, and had encouraged her further when Jane had paused or even just took a breath. Yet it seemed as though Sofiya never stopped talking during that entire time, uttering small noises of protest when Jane had mentioned something her parents had done to upset her, though Jane did her best not to sound like she had some sort of Cinderella-complex, but with such a willing and sympathetic listener, it was hard not to take the chance to let off a little steam.
“Okay, let me get this straight: You want to be a professional writer, a career choice no one in your family supports, your parents are borderline abusive, your sister is a trampy diva, and your brother, who is away at college and only calls once every blue moon to vent about how crappy his life is and make sure your parents haven’t driven you to insanity, is your best and only friend. Have I got everything?” Sofiya asked sounding absolutely livid on Jane’s behalf.

Jane winced. Maybe she’d said just a bit too much about her family.
“Well… when you put it that way, it sounds kind of bad,” Jane said meekly.
“Oh, does it now?” Sofiya said, rolling her eyes sarcastically, her bejeweled hand on her hip. “And don’t think that I don’t know you glazed over some stuff, because I do.”

Sofiya raised her eyebrow at Jane, silently daring her to deny it, but she couldn’t.
“Look, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. And I’m okay, really. My life could be way worse,” Jane said, trying very hard to sell the idea that she wasn’t completely miserable at home and school.

Sofiya wasn’t buying.
“Oh my word, that is it! I am officially adopting you,” Sofiya said, pointing a finger in Jane’s face to emphasize.
“Adopt?” Jane asked tentatively, pushing Sofiya’s finger aside slowly with one of her own.
“Yes. You are now my sister and best friend, whether you like it or not,” Sofiya said with finality, leaving no room for argument.

Though, truth be told, Jane had no desire to argue it. She was touched by the young woman’s sympathy and concern, and her desire to befriend Jane – not to mention, the idea of a real friend to tell Jane’s troubles to without fear or restraint appealed to Jane greatly.
“I’d like that,” Jane said, smiling.

Sofiya squealed in delight, wrapping her arms around Jane in a vice-like hug.
“Oh my word! This is going to be such fun! I’ve never had a girl best friend before – only Lukan,” Sofiya said, leaning back into her seat after releasing Jane.
“With as much as he worries about his appearance, I’m pretty sure he counts as a girl anyway,” Jane said disdainfully.

Sofiya gasped a little and then laughed.
“Well, you’ve got him figured out, haven’t you?” Sofiya muttered in amusement.
“He’s not that big of a mystery,” Jane said derisively.
“Every other girl in school would disagree,” Sofiya said sagely.

Jane rolled her eyes in aggravation. As if any of those girls really counted anyway, with their bleach-blonde hair and miniskirts.
“You’ve actually seen the other girls in school, right? I mean, they don’t exactly scream, ‘tasteful’ or ’intelligent.”

Sofiya rolled her eyes right back.
“Ugh. There’s no winning this argument with you. Why are so determined to hate him anyway?” Sofiya asked in genuine curiosity.

Jane was a little taken aback by that question. Why was she so determined to hate him – other than his being a stuck-up, vain snob, of course? Jane couldn’t really think of any reason, except how conscious he made her of how plain she was, especially next to his well-groomed, handsome form.

Jane would never admit that though, not if she lived a thousand years. It was just too humiliating and pathetic.
“Can we talk about something else?” Jane asked uncomfortably.

Sofiya looked at Jane before her oddly for a moment before nodding, giving Jane the floor again.

Jane struggled to find something to say for a moment when college ran through her mind.
“I’m hoping to get a scholarship to Weston University. They’ve got a great writing program. I can’t really afford to pay for it because I don’t have a job but if I get a scholar-“
Oh my word!” Sofiya burst out without warning.

Jane shrunk into her chair as far as she could go, shocked at Sofiya’s sudden and terrifying outburst.

Sofiya didn’t seem to notice in her obvious jubilation.

“You can work here!” the young Asian woman nearly shouted. “Lilith has been talking about getting some more help around here anyway, and you would be perfect!”
“She would most certainly not be perfect!”

Both girls spun around to find Lukan standing in the doorway, looking seriously put out. Sofiya jumped off her stool to face Lukan better. When she did, her hands were on her hips and she looked raring for a fight.
“And why is that, may I ask?”
Lukan looked at Jane and then back at Sofiya.
“You know exactly why, Sofiya! Do I have to spell it out for you?” he said in a harsh, low voice.
Sofiya looked every bit as peeved as Lukan did, and significantly more terrifying, especially considering her small stature.
“We don’t have to tell her about that!” Sofiya said equally harsh and low.

Jane eyed both of them warily. What is it that they can’t tell me? Are they growing marijuana in the hothouse, or something? Jane thought suspiciously.
“The guests will eat her alive, Sofe – literally,” Lukan said with a meaning that only he and Sofiya seemed to understand.
“Don’t you ‘Sofe’ me. And now who’s giving away secrets?”
“Guests? So, this is a hotel of sorts then?” Jane inserted between the arguing duo.
“Yes, and you are not working here,” Lukan said, rounding on Jane, who hadn’t dared move from her barstool. “It’s a bad idea.”
“Well, I think it’s a good idea!” Sofiya piped up.

Lukan opened his mouth to retort, but someone beat him to it.
“I agree with Sofiya, Lukan.”

All three looked up to see Lilith standing at the doorway, much as Lukan had been, though looking anything but put out. In fact, she looked decidedly pleased to see Jane and couldn’t be bothered to take her eyes from her as she walked more fully into the room. She walked right past her other two ‘favorites,’ and wrapped Jane in a motherly hug.

This is getting to be a really bad habit with these people, Jane thought wryly, never the one for much human contact.
“Hello, Jane. How have you been since we last spoke this afternoon? Not upset, I hope?” Lilith asked, releasing Jane and looked at her with a concerned expression.
“Um… I’m fine, I guess,” Jane said, looking bewilderedly between the three people in the room, who were in turn all staring at her.

Lukan was the first to speak again.
“Lilith, have you gone mad? You know that she can’t work here!”
“I believe it would be good for us to have someone like Jane around – someone to add a little life to the old place. Besides, I think you especially could benefit from her influence as she has so little tolerance for your foolish snobbery, unlike the rest of us,” Lilith replied with a conspiratorial wink in Jane’s direction.

Jane blanched at her principal’s mischievous manner.
“Oh, really?” Lukan folded his arms and cocked his eyebrow. “Well, forgive me, but I still have to wonder what our guests would have to say about this?”
“If they don’t like it, they can just leave,” Lilith snapped icily over her shoulder, shocking all three adolescents with her unusually nasty manner.
“Now dear, what do you have to say about all this?” Lilith asked Jane kindly, the quick change in tone catching the others off guard. “Would you like to work here?”

Lilith rubbed Jane’s upper arms up and down in an affectionate manner. Jane, who was unused to such open displays of affection, shifted her weight from foot to foot uncomfortably.
“Well, it doesn’t really matter whether I want to work here or not. My parents would never go for it,” Jane said, trying to sound light.
Lilith smiled at this in her mysterious way.
“If Mr. and Mrs. Parker were to agree to it though, would you wish to work here?”
“Yeah, I would, but I know they wouldn’t-“
“Do not trouble yourself about it dear. I will handle your parents,” Lilith said in a resolved tone that left no room for argument.

Jane wasn’t so sure.

Jane’s eyes went wide in horror and she suddenly gasped, looking around frantically.
“Oh, no! What time is it?” she asked in a panic.
“About seven o’clock,” Lukan said casually. “Why do you ask?”
Jane rushed to clean up after herself, grabbing plates and scrubbing them in the sink, moving so fast that Sofiya’s and Lukan’s mouths fell open, though Lilith seemed only concerned about Jane being upset.
“I’m so late! They’re going to kill me!” Jane muttered in misery.

She should have been home hours ago, cooking dinner, doing laundry, not there chatting!
“Jane dear, why don’t Lukan, Sofiya and I drive you home, and I can address the issue of the job here at The Haven and explain things to the satisfaction of Mr. and Mrs. Parker?” Lilith asked kindly.
Jane stopped washing her plate mid scrub to look at her principal, a tiny spark of hope in her heart. Her parents might be less inclined to make a scene right when she got home should there be three other people with her, but she doubted that an army, let alone her principal and two fellow students, could keep her from getting in very serious trouble when it came time to face her parents alone.

Then again, the look on their faces might be worth it, and then of course there was the whole avoiding walking through the wolf infested forest at night. She wondered briefly if she should mention that before deciding against it. They’d probably laugh or call the psych ward at the nearest hospital.
“That’d be great,” Jane said with a brave smile.

Well, Jane thought wryly. This is certainly going to be something…

***

Lilith walked up the stairs of The Haven until she reached her office door. She opened it and walked in, tiredly. Her head ached a little after the stressful events of the day, even though her heart was singing with joy. Jane was to work at The Haven, and all was going exactly as planned. Soon she could tell everyone the truth and this whole farce could blissfully end.

Lilith sank down languidly in her comfortable leather chair, allowing herself to slouch, a very rare indulgence that she only occasionally allowed herself. She kicked off her shoes even, sinking her toes luxuriously into the cream-colored carpet. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to absorb the peaceful silence of her office.

She took a deep breath and her eyes snapped open. She smelled the tall azaleas that grew below her window, and when she looked at the doors to the balcony she saw that they were open.

A chill of fear ran down her spine. The doors had not been open before. Someone was in the room with her, she could feel it. What terrified her was that she couldn’t smell them.

Her eye caught a movement behind the curtains, which were being blown by the breeze. Her eyes could distinguish the figure of a man, but even with her inhumanly good vision it was almost impossible to discern his features in the dark of the night.

“Who is it?” Lilith demanded in an icy tone, standing up.

Her body was rigid but she schooled her features to remain emotionless. She wouldn’t panic unless there was good reason.

The man moved from behind the curtains and stepped forward, his white, opalescent eyes shimmering a moment before fading into a dark forest green.

Lilith gasped in shock at the sight of someone she thought she would never see again.

“Convel,” she whispered, half in fear, half in horror.

He smiled back at her warmly, stretching his arms out, as though waiting for her to run into his embrace.

“Lilith,” he said tenderly. “Me love.”

Lilith took a step back, shaking herself from her state of cold disbelief.

“I am not your anything anymore, Convel,” she said, almost managing to keep her voice steady.

The smile faded from both his lips and his eyes, his arms falling to his sides. His eyes flicked to her left hand before his eyes met hers with a look of steel.

“Yer not wearing yer wedding ring,” he said evenly.

“I threw it away after you… left,” she said with as much dignity as she could muster.

Convel’s lips quirked up into a smirk, parent-like indulgence written all over his face.

“Of course you did, Lilith,” he said, looking straight into her eyes.

Lilith hated herself for being the first one to look away but she couldn’t help it.

“It’s been almost seventeen years, Lilith,” he continued, looking around with assessing eyes, Lilith knowing that he was looking for any changes she had made. There were none. “Have you not begun to see things me way yet?”

“You know I have not,” she said calmly. She knew she should call someone but she just couldn’t force herself to do it. Not after so many years without seeing him. “I know better than to ask if you have changed. It is obvious that you have not.”

“Ye are hardly one to talk,” he said, taunting mirth in his eyes. “You are exactly the same as ye were the day you threw me out; just as dignified as ever.”

“That is not fair, Convel,” Lilith said passionately. “I gave you a choice-”

“An ultimatum, you mean,” he shot back, all traces of amusement gone from his face.

“All I asked was that you respect the rights of others-“

Humans, Lilith, are not ’others,” he spat angrily. “They are meant to be-“

“What? Ruled? Was that to be your answer? After all these years are you still singing that same old tune?” she asked hotly.

Lilith was not often angry, but when she was it usually had something to do with him.

“I did not come here to argue with ye, Lilith,” Convel ground out. “I came to discuss something.”

“There is nothing to discuss,” she said, turning away from him and folding her arms with steely determination.

She would not fall for this again. She would not be weak. And she would not give in to the urge to wrap her arms around him and kiss him.

“Two words, Lilith. Allow me two words and if ye still don’t want to hear what I have to say, I’ll go. Are we agreed?”

Lilith thought for a moment before answering him. She sighed and nodded her head in agreement.

“Jane Parker.”

Lilith’s head snapped up, her eyes wide and her heart beating wildly in true panic. How can he know? she thought desperately. How in God’s name can he know?

“How?” was all she said.

She couldn’t get any more than that out of her mouth. She was breathless with fear for Jane.

“Did ye really think I wouldn’t find out?” he asked passionately. “Did ye really think that I wouldn’t keep track of me own wife? Or that I wouldn’t notice that she ran off for a year after I left to God knows where?”

Lilith sank down into her chair again, though her feelings as she felt the worn leather beneath her were light-years away from the way she had felt when she had sat in it only minutes ago. She laid her head in her hands, despair emanating from her every pore, her every atom.

“What do you want?” she whispered softly, barely loud enough to be heard, even by Convel’s inhuman hearing.

She felt cold, hollow, dead. As though the world would end at any moment and there was nothing she could do to stop it, and for her it all was going to end.

“I think ye know what I want,” he said emotionlessly.

“Yes,” she said quietly, numbly. “Yes, I suppose I do know.”

She looked up at him, feeling every bit her age and more. The look in her eyes hardened and she gathered enough strength to stand shakily.

“I will tell them,” Lilith said, her voice like iron even though it was trembling right along with the rest of her body. “I will tell everyone that you are back, and we will stop you, Convel. So help me, we will.”

“And what will ye tell them when they ask why I am back, Lilith? What will ye tell her when she asks why ye believe me to be a danger to her?”

Lilith’s will dissolved then and she crumpled up in her chair. She stared blankly in front of her, not seeing, not feeling, only hearing Convel’s words over and over again in her mind. What will you tell them, Lilith? What will you tell her?

“That’s what I thought,” he said, a gleam of triumph in his eye. “I suppose I should be going now that I’ve found ye still indifferent to my ideals.”

But he didn’t go, not at first. He simply stood there, looking at her. There was a look of slight hope, perhaps that she would ask him to stay or that she had changed her mind and wanted to come with him. After a moment of her staring blankly through him though he seemed to realize that she hadn’t changed her mind and wouldn’t, at least not then. He quietly made his way to the window, and with one last, longing look back he was gone.

Lilith sat there for a moment, looking hollowly at where he had stood a moment ago. Something wet hit her hand and she looked down to see that it was a tear.

She wiped it from her hand with her finger and then grabbed the handle of the wide drawer in her desk. She pulled the drawer out slowly, tears slowly trailing down her cheeks. There was only one thing in the drawer. It was a small, black-velvet ring box.

She pushed the drawer back quickly, laid her head down on the desk and wept.

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