It's a Cruel World, Sir

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15 | Promise

I stare at my ceiling absently, not really paying attention to the smooth white. One part of my mind is listening for Cassadee, waiting for her to come up here ranting about a car waiting outside so I know when Leon and the others are here, the other part is focused on Chase.

Usually, when I come home, my wonderful sister harps on my appearance, criticizing everything—my hair, my outfit, my skin, my makeup (or lack thereof)—but instead, she decided to interrogate me. “Is Chase single? How old is he? Do you know where he lives? Why did he come here? What subject does he teach?” On and on, the questions never seemed to end. It was like she had taken Mother’s personal handbook on how to get a guy to be interested and the first chapter involved gathering as much information as possible before planning an attack. That’s not what bothers me, however—Mother and Cassadee always use me as their information guzzle since they’re not smart enough to do it themselves. What bothers me is how much I don’t want her to know. The entire time, I didn’t want to tell her anything. Mostly, I just gave her noncommittal gestures, pretending I didn’t know, which earned me one or two backhands. Neither did much damage (Cassadee hits a lot like Mother—all brute force with nothing to back it up—so it only stung for a moment before numbing), but they did leave a nice red mark that lasted a half hour. When she realized she wasn’t getting anything from me, she gave up, grumbling plans under her breath. All I got from them was something about “mysteriously running into him at the school,” so I guessed she was going to invade my school and pretend to be pick me up or something.

I sigh, covering my eyes with my arm.

Just thinking about it is irritating, more irritating than usual, which is saying something for those two. Maybe I should’ve done more to make them believe he’s taken. After all, he’s an attractive guy, right? It’s not like it’s that hard to believe someone like him would have someone in his life. In fact, it’s harder to believe he doesn’t have someone in his life. Even flings like Calvin has would make more sense than nothing at all.

You shouldn’t touch unknown substances, Ms. Tyler.

Maybe one day you’ll find out.

Of course, it might be impossible for people to get past how cryptic and nosy he is.

Suddenly, someone honks three times, pulling me from my contemplating, and I sit up to look out the window. Sure enough, Leon’s truck is sitting in front of my house, waiting for me. I can see Calvin and Trent in the back bed and figure Nikki, Whit, and TJ are in the truck.

Closing my curtains, I head to the bathroom, double checking my appearance in the mirror. Because they don’t want me to be recognized, I have to wear a horrid disguise, leaving me with a long-haired brunette wig—it’s actually uncanny how close the light brown is to my natural color. Instead of a hoodie and jeans, I’m in a blue, long-sleeve galaxy dress that fits like a glove and a pair of black leggings. Thankfully, I’m allowed to wear ankle lace-up boots, better than the heels Nikki wanted, and zero to no make-up.

After checking to make sure no pink hair is noticeable, I head out and down the stairs, hoping to get past Cassadee without incident. Luck seems to be on my side tonight, because she’s already gone out.

As suspected, I can see Nikki in the passenger seat next to Leon, Whit and Tj behind them. Calvin is standing in the bed, leaning against the top of the car lazily. Trent, on the other hand, is sitting next to him, head resting against the back like he doesn’t have a care in the world.

“Ready to go?” Leon asks, rolling down the window.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I mutter, hoisting myself up the side with the tire. “Let’s just get this over with.”

“You heard the lady,” Calvin hoots, hitting the top of the car. “Move out~”

Leon shakes his head, a smile on his face as he starts the truck. I take my place on the ledge, being sure to use my hands to stay in place as Leon drives away.

“You look good as a brunette,” Calvin says thoughtfully.

I roll my eyes. “You would think that—since you’re the one who picked it out.”

“Damn, I’m good,” he says.

“You’re an idiot.”

“So you know what the plan is, right?” Trent double-checks.

It’s quite simple really. Thanks to some info they gathered the other day, we know that certain people from Preston’s gang are going to be at MJ’s Joint tonight. No one too high up in status, but people high enough to turn heads if something were to happen to them. The plan is to have Whit and Nikki lead them to the back, where the VIP rooms are, so Leon, Trent, and TJ can corner them, hopefully trapping them long enough to get information. While that’s going on, Calvin’s supposed to distract Roy, the DJ, and Douglas, the bouncer. My job is the easiest (of course). All I have to do is hang out on the dance area and make sure nothing’s going on. If I see something, I’m supposed to let Calvin know by asking him to dance, and he’ll tell Douglas that he saw someone go into the VIP room, busting the others’ party before things get too bad.

I sigh. “Yes, Trent, I know. Leon’s only told me twenty-five million times.”

He shrugs. “That’s because he knows you won’t do what you’re told.”

“I always do what I’m told!” I argue.

Calvin gives me a look. “Oh sure you do. That’s why Noah had to go to the infirmary for a bruised kneecap. Heard it was going to hinder him in the soccer game this weekend if he didn’t rest.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I say. “And even if I did, that doesn’t mean I don’t listen. Leon said, ’take care of it later;′ technically, it was later.”

“So you just find loopholes,” he says, “which is worse than not listening.”

“Whatever,” I grumble. “I won’t do anything but dance.”

He and Trent clearly don’t believe me, but neither of them comment.

When we pull up to Mary Jane’s street, Leon parks the truck in the back of an old club they’re reconstructing, successfully hiding it. Calvin and Trent jump down, both of them helping me (because jumping in this dress in any way would be disastrous) as Leon wraps around the hood of the car to open the door for Nikki, who has chosen a short, fluorescent yellow tutu and a dark, bra-like top splattered in blacklight paint for tonight’s occasion.

Whit, rolling her eyes as Nikki fixes Leon’s shirt for him, chose a different route. Her bright blue one piece is ripped along the edges and barely goes to her thighs, showing the tiny four-leaf clover tattoo. She forsaked shoes, letting the bright pink nail polish on her toes shine. Because TJ, Trent, and Leon are hiding in the VIP room, and Calvin’s just chatting up the bouncer and DJ, they didn’t dress in anything special for the occasion, all of them in jeans and a t-shirt—minus Trent, who opted for sweats instead. It might sound suspicious, but Trent never dresses up when we go raving, so no one will turn their heads when they see him.

“We all know what to do, right?” Leon asks. Again.

“Yep,” Nikki chimes. Whit rolls her eyes, and Trent looks bored.

“And what happens if something goes wrong?” he checks.

“Cupcake has to make her way to the truck, with or without us. I interrupt your party and head after her. The spare keys are under the seat in a notebook. If no one comes back within three minutes, we head to my house,” Calvin says, wrapping an arm around my neck. “Calm down, Chief. We’ve got this.”

He sighs. “Alright. Let’s get this over with.”

We trek the three blocks to the club quickly, trying to get there without seeming suspicious—the plan won’t work if one of Preston’s goonies notices us and everyone makes a run for it.

The music’s so loud, I can feel the pulse of it in the soles of my boots a building away. As soon as we reach the doors, Calvin makes a beeline for Roy and Douglas. Leon kisses Nikki’s cheek before he, Trent, and TJ make their way to the back. We watch as Calvin manages to get Roy and Douglas engrossed in the pile of numbers he had gotten the other day, and they slip behind them, easily opening the door and getting inside without so much as a turn in their direction.

“Seriously, though, as much as I like the pastel pink, I think you should go back to brown,” Nik says thoughtfully.

I snort. “No thank you. Then I’m just a shade away from Mother’s hair.”

“Amen,” Whit agrees.

Nikki rolls her eyes. “Her natural hair; it’s not as if she’s ever going to give up her blonde, so you have nothing to worry about.”

“The fact that I’m related to her at all makes me want to completely rearrange my DNA.”

“Fair point,” she gives me, “but think of the torment she’d have if you had the same hair color she’s supposed to have.”

“Huh,” I say. “Never thought of that.”

She snickers, but can’t say anything else because Calvin winks at us. Roy and Douglas laugh as I roll my eyes back at him.

“Calvin’s ready,” I say, crossing my arms in an effort to appear annoyed so Roy and Douglas will believe the little act.

“Already?” Nikki nearly whines. “I really wanted to tease you about Chase before this started.”

Whit practically hisses, “There’s nothing going on between them.”

Nik simply waves her off. “Oh, shut up, Whitler. You’re just angry that he managed to hurt your hand without lifting a finger.”

“His stomach was like a fucking rock, okay?” she grouses. “It felt like he had plated armor protecting him.”

“Of course, because all professors walk around with protective gear under their button-ups.” She rolls her eyes. “Face it, Whit; you don’t have the touch you used to.”

“Let’s just get this over with,” she grumbles.

Nikki laughs, winking at me as they blend in with the crowd.

I lean against the wall, enjoying the show. Almost immediately, several guys approach them, especially when they split up and go to either end of the club. Evan, the dark-skinned, white-haired lackey, is Nikki’s target. He’s dancing with a group of girls near the VIP rooms—I wouldn’t be surprised if he has it reserved tonight. He’s rumored to be Preston’s dealer and a hardcore member, supposedly friends with Preston and Ronnie before the gang was even in their minds. He’s got a fast temper and mean mouth, but he’s not much of a fighter. Levi, on the other hand, is one of the main fighters. His blond dreadlocks go well with his pale skin, almost glowing in the black lights from how light they are. According to Bri, he’s the one keeping an eye on Evan, making sure other dealers don’t rough him up too bad. At the moment, his eyes are sweeping along the building, probably picking out possible threats.

Levi catches a glance of Whit, eyes trailing after her like a dog. After a second or two, she sways her hips to the beat, letting her eyes draw to him. He tilts his head, a cocky grin, and heads towards her. They start dancing to Raver’s Fantasy, and I look over at Nik. She has managed to get Evan to completely abandon whatever plans he had with the girls now sulking in a corner in under five minutes, dancing so intimately, his body and hands flatten her tutu.

It doesn’t take long after that. Levi nips on Whit’s neck, and she laughs, nodding her head. He takes her hand and leads her to the VIP room. Calvin takes extra care to exaggerate his movements, engrossing Roy and Douglas into whatever story he’s telling. When Whit and Levi head to the room, Douglas just waves them in absently. Nikki takes a more aggressive approach. As the next song ends, she tugs on Evan’s hand, pulling him towards the room enthusiastically. Calvin can’t distract Douglas enough this time, but it doesn’t matter—when he sees who wants in, he lets them through without a problem.

Now’s the boring part: waiting. I’m not allowed to leave the club unless Calvin’s with me—not even supposed to go outside—so I’m literally only supposed to dance and make sure no other gang members decide to show up.

My boredom is short-lived, though, because as another song starts up, heavy bass pounding the walls, a guy comes over to me, all smiles and enthusiasm. In the flashing lights, all I can make out about him is that I’ve never seen him before—I don’t know anyone with a dark mustache and beard past their chin. I can tell his hair is short, the sides shaved off with the middle slicked back, but that’s it.

He’s attractive, in a lumberjack kind of way.

“What’re you doing by yourself?” he asks curiously. It reminds me so much of Calvin, I relax.

“What’s the fun in dancing by myself?” I shoot back. I realize too late it might have come off as if I’m waiting for someone to ask me to dance when it’s simply not worth dancing without Nik and TJ going crazy on the dance floor.

He chuckles. “Touche.”

“What about you?” I ask, changing the subject.

“I saw a gorgeous girl standing in the corner dejectedly,” is his smooth comeback, that grin still on his face. Seriously, in looks, the two are different, but damn, in personality, he and Calvin could be twins.

“I looked dejected to you?” I wonder.

“A little,” he admits. “Like you’re missing out on something.”

I laugh. Not because he’s right—because missing out on Leon, Trent, and TJ interrogating someone is something to be dejected about—but because I can’t believe I’m that easy to read. And to a complete stranger no less! “Well, everyone’s on the dance floor and here I am,” I lie.

He holds out a hand, nodding towards the center of the room as S3RL’s Feels like Heaven comes on. “How about you dance with me, then?”

“I don’t even know your name,” I point out.

He gives me a lopsided grin. “Darestin.”

“Nice name,” I say. “Never heard of it.”

“That’s because I’m one of a kind,” he says, grinning.

I roll my eyes. What a Calvin thing to say.

“Now how about that dance?”

I think about it. What’s the point in coming to a club if you aren’t going to dance? If I say no to everyone, it’ll seem suspicious; might as well dance with someone who takes some of the edge off, right?

“Alright,” I agree, lacing our fingers.

He doesn’t pull me to the center, thankfully, only inwards enough to get away from the people shuffling, but he does pull me uncomfortably close, turning me around and pressing himself against my back. The song starts off techno, but it slows down enough for him to grind against me. I blank out my mind, letting the song fill my head, and move with him. As the beat speeds up, though, he gives me room, letting air between us as we continue. The bass pounds through my body, racing my heart. I can feel the beat pumping against us as people crowd around, getting into it. We’re pushed closer together because of them, but that doesn’t stop the fast pace.

Suddenly, someone yanks me away from him, hard enough to make me stumble. I manage to catch myself with my hands in the nick of time and turn to see what’s going on.

Some random guy has tackled Darestin to the floor, pinning him in. I stand up quickly and dig my boot into the guy’s side hard enough to knock him off. He falls on the other side of him, giving Darestin enough time to stand up, but he’s back quickly. Darestin tries to step in front of me, defend me probably, but I push him back, nailing the guy in the stomach with a right hook. He cringes but manages to grab my wrist before I can pull away, holding me in place. I hiss in pain and side kick his knees on reflex, ripping my dress all the way up to my hip. He groans and grabs my hair in an effort to bring me down with him. The tape used to keep the wig in place can’t withstand his weight, though, and rips off, falling on the ground. My pastel hair glows strikingly in the black lights, illuminating everything else.

“Time to go,” I say, grabbing Darestin’s wrist.

He doesn’t say anything as we make a mad dash for the door, and I don’t have time to look at him. I’m supposed to go to Leon’s truck if anything happens, but I can’t take a complete stranger there. If this guy is a friend of Preston’s, he can’t know what vehicle Leon drives or he’ll get Leon while he’s at home or driving or out or whatever, but I can’t leave him anywhere near the club either because if he isn’t with Preston, and someone saw him dancing with me, he could be cornered. The poor guy could get hurt just because he asked me to dance.

Shit. Where else is there, though?

“Woah,” Darestin says breathlessly, pulling me from my thoughts as he stops. “Slow down, killer.”

I glance at him. We’ve only been running for five or six blocks. “Sorry.”

“It’s alright,” he says. “Pretty impressive work, though. And nice disguise, though the pink looks better.”

“Uh, yeah,” I say awkwardly, remembering my hair all pinned up. Now that it’s out of the wig, there’s no reason for it to be left in a tight bun, so I pull it out, picking the clips and bobby pins out as I study him.

Now that we’re in the street lights, I can tell that he’s more attractive than I gave him credit for. The beard and mustache aren’t really my taste, but they look good on him. His eyes are the same dark brown as his hair and go well with his light skin. He’s dressed in a white tee and dark-rinse jeans with giant, dark hunting boots. On his right arm, I can see a sleeve of tattoos trailing up his arm.

Holy shit. This guy is gorgeous.

“So what was that all about anyway?” he asks, still regaining his breath as he pushes his hair back.

I blink, ignoring my thoughts. “Uh... It’s, um, complicated?”

He laughs. “I’ll say.” And then that Calvin smile is back, any attraction wavering. “It’s cool. First time a girl’s protected me, so it was an experience.”

I return it, relieved. “Thanks.”

He blinks, something shifting in his eyes. Have they always had that silver flair?

But as he takes a step towards me, I hear, “Do not even think about it, Darestin.”

My head snaps to the side, eyes widening at the sight of Chase. He’s dressed in the usual—dark jeans, black leather jacket, shining black shoes—but something’s off. His hair is messier, wild. The street light is casting off his face, making his features harder, eyes gleaming silver.

For some reason, he looks angry.

Darestin straightens up, looking at him. “So this is her,” he says. Suddenly, his breathing is back to normal, as if he was never winded in the first place. “I totally get it now.”

My eyebrows furrow. “What?”

Chase steps to us, his movements uncharacteristically light, like his feet are barely on the ground. As he gets closer, I notice Darestin gets tighter. Their eyes pierce each other.

Darestin holds up his hands. “I said I get it,” he surrenders. “I wasn’t planning on doing anything. Honest.”

Chase doesn’t look convinced.

“Alright, alright,” he says, defeated. “I’m leaving.” To me, he smiles. “Nice to finally meet you, Vixen.”

“You too,” I say awkwardly, but then stop. “Wait. How do you know my name?”

He gives me a mysterious smile before putting his hands in his pockets and turning in the opposite direction, whistling some tune.

“How does he—?” I start to ask, but stop.

He doesn’t just look angry, he looks pissed. His jaw is tight, teeth clenched, and his face is scrunched in anger. His eyes are hard, dark silver popping in the lighter silver. I can practically feel his anger radiating off of him.

“Are you okay?” I wonder.

“No,” he says darkly. “I would not say I’m ‘okay.’”

I know I’m going to regret asking. “What’s wrong?”

He sighs, long and hard. “You’re a walking target, you know that? Not just for Preston, but for any predator out there, as if you invite them. What were you thinking, enticing Darestin?”

I blink, confused. “First, I don’t know how to ‘entice’ someone; I don’t even know how to flirt. Second, what the hell are you talking about—predators? Like the murderer on the loose?”

“There are worse things out there than a human killer,” he spats.

"Human,” I repeat, staring at him. No one’s sense of smell is that good. Yes, you’re correct. “That’s it, isn’t it? You aren’t human. And that guy, Darestin, he wasn’t either, was he?”

His lips set in a thin line.

“What are you then?” I demand.

“That’s not what this is about, Vixen,” he says, cutting me off. “You have put yourself in danger again.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say stubbornly. “If I hadn’t stepped in, Darestin—”

“Would have been fine,” he inserts. “Darestin is capable of taking care of himself, and even if he wasn’t, it is not your job to assure he’s okay.”

“So what?” I challenge. “I can’t just stand still as someone’s attacked because of me—I won’t do it, and you’re going to have to get over it.”

His eyes flash, and he snatches my left wrist, pulling up the sleeve in one motion. Almost all of the cuts are split open, the purple and black bruises around them blossoming from all the abuse. “This is what happens when you do things recklessly,” he says harshly. “They’re so deep, I can smell the blood from miles away.”

I open my mouth to defend myself, but close it, turning my head away from him. I don’t have to justify myself to him; I don’t have to tell him anything.

“I even warned you not to put yourself in danger,” he murmurs, fingers sliding along the edge of a dark bruise. It’s probably the worst one, since it’s surrounding the first cut, so big it actually reaches the base of my palm.

He leans down, a light kiss on the bruise. My heart rate skyrockets, and I try to yank my hand away from him. He’s not having it, though, using his other hand to grab my right arm, locking me in place. I can feel his tongue glide over the bruise, trailing to the first cut. It feels like something’s coating it, like something soft is covering my wrist, hot flashes traveling up my arm.

When he pulls away, all of the wounds are gone.

“How did you—”

"Signo,” he breathes, bringing his lips to mine.

My mind flatlines. For a moment, when his lips brush mine, the world goes black. Not in the ‘This is it’ moment that Nikki talks about when Leon kisses her, more literal. I can’t even feel him, just a deep, warm void enveloping me. Then everything comes back, crash landing. I physically have to blink at the light from the streetlights and stars. My body feels hard, like diamond is cemented under my skin.

“What did you do to me!?” I demand, making a fist over and over again. My fingers crack every time, like they’re popping back into place.

He doesn’t say anything at first. Instead, he pulls out a pocket knife he had in his pocket. The blade is cool obsidian, completely black. He grabs my arm and runs it along my wrist. Instead of pain, I feel warmth build along the part he tried to cut, protecting me. There’s not even a mark.

“So what? Your blade is useless?”

He smirks. “Obsidian is very durable, even if it’s only a 5 on the hardness scale. It also cuts humans like butter. Meaning: you simply can’t be cut.”

My mouth drops open. "Excuse me?”

"This is your punishment,” he says. “Nothing you own is strong enough to cut you.”

“How... how in the world did you...”

“You were right when you surmised I wasn’t human,” he says, “but I don’t think you’re prepared for what I really am just yet.”

“I... I was thinking vampire or werewolf, but this isn’t... this isn’t even something I’ve even read about.”

He laughs. “I’m not a mindless bat that doesn’t think about anything other than food, and I’m certainly not a rabid dog with nothing but mating on my mind,” he says, amused.

I blink slowly. “Did you just imply that vampires and werewolves are real?”

He smirks. “One day, I’ll introduce you to one, though I have to warn you: attractive as they are, werewolves are charismatic creatures, capable of convincing the most stubborn of people into doing things they want.”

“Charismatic, of course,” I mutter. “Thought vampires were supposed to be the charismatic ones.”

“Vampires are fools,” he says plainly. “All that ability and little motivation to do anything with it other than needlessly kill. They don’t even hunt for food anymore since there’s such an abundance of it; now, they simply hunt because they don’t know what else to do.”

I rub my forehead. “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”

“The point,” he continues, looking down at me, “is that humans aren’t the only dangers out there. You need to be more careful.”

“Why me?” I demand. “Why are you only telling me this? What about everyone else? What about Nikki and Leon and TJ and Calvin and...”

“Do you remember my second day teaching?” he asks.

My eyes tighten. “You were being an ass to Nikki and TJ.”

He chuckles. “Of course you remember it like that.” But it quickly turns to a sigh. “I only acted like that to see what made you tick. An experiment to figure out what made you angry.”

“Okay, so you found out I’m easy to piss off. Congrats. Nikki could’ve told you that if you wouldn’t have been an ass first.”

“It’s the opposite, actually,” he corrects. “It’s very hard to anger you.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Have you been paying attention the past few weeks? I’m always angry.”

“I’ve been paying too much attention,” he says. “The only thing that makes you angry, Vixen, is someone hurting your friends. The reason you’re angry all the time is simply because people are attacking them at every turn in school, be it physically or verbally. I meant it when I said you were a good person.”

My face burns, making me look away. “Whatever.”

“When I did that, I learned that you were the INFJ personality. The Protector or Defender, if you want.”

“What does that even mean?” I say, exasperated.

“You would know if you did some of the extra credit,” he says pointedly, making me roll my eyes. Freaking professor. “If you did any research, you would know that the INFJ personality is the rarest of all 16 personalities. Only 1 to 3 percent of the population has it. In all the years I’ve existed, I’ve only met a handful of people with it.”


“And the reason they’re so rare is because they don’t live long,” he says, willing his words to weigh heavily. “The Protectors are selfless. They care more about those around them than themselves. Because of this, they’ll put themselves in jeopardy to save people they care about. Most will do it even for people they don’t know, as you did with Darestin.”

I open my mouth to protest, but he cuts me off.

“Protectors are easy targets,” he clips. “All something has to do is put someone in danger in front of you, and you’ll rush to save them. Humans make it sound noble, like a hero’s death, but you need to understand that your life is just as important as anyone else’s. After all, if you leave, who will care for your brother and sisters? For your friends?”

I blink, staring at him. Everything in my head is jumbled together, nothing making sense, but I still have one question. “What does it matter to you?” I ask. “If I die, if something tricks me and eats me or whatever, why would it matter to you?”

His eyes glisten. I notice the milky silver is warm in a way as he grabs a strand of my hair between his fingers. “Cupcakes have always been my favorite,” he murmurs, leaning down to kiss it.

Have you ever seen Hoodwinked? You know, at the beginning, how everyone was shutting down their shops after their recipes were stolen? Well, that’s how I felt losing all of my files to some error: my cupcake recipes were stolen from my bakery, except instead of using them, they burned the recipe book in front of me. It was pretty tragic.

But, hopefully, that’s all over with now. I’ve discovered Google Docs thanks to my lovely little phoenix (bjrcarebear) and have given up (mostly) on Word for now.

At any rate, I hope you liked this long chapter as an apology, and I hope you can forgive me. Also, "signo" is "seal" in Latin.

Happy reading, cupcakes~<3(:

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