Obey

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Chapter 7: Djedi Hall - Part 2

Inside Djedi Hall’s Student Café - 01:10 P.M.

“Dr. Jade’s class was way too long. I’ll be forever thankful for coffee,” Ashley said as she alternated between playing on her phone and burning her tongue with the scalding liquid.

Taking a swig of water, Roscoe made a toast to the circular table. “Thank you, Kaldi, the 9th-century Ethiopian goatherd who discovered coffee.”

Hearing smacking lips, a mortified Dee looked at her Protected. “Close your mouth! Jesus!”

“Hmmm?” Denzel continued chomping on his poorly prepackaged delicacy, some lopsided egg rolls he’d obtained from the back of an open café freezer. Disgusted, Dee chopped the man in the back of his head. “What the hell, ya tryna to kill me?”

“Were you raised by animals?”

“Mmm-be,” Denzel grumbled and coughed. “Judgy much?” he asked after clearing his airway.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full, you beast! And what are you doing to your poor rolls?!”

“Don’t knock it ’til you try it,” he said as he sprinkled his food in a hot sauce and salt blend. “Just think of them like those deviled eggs we had last summer. And who are ya, my ma?”

Dropping her head to her hands, Dee sighed, “I need a nap.”

“Remember ya manners,” Denzel chided when he saw Dee go slack-jawed with a yawn. She flipped him off in return.

“Our1:30 class is centered on the occult, right?” Hailey’s resting head rose from the table, effervescent eyes shining as they devoured their literary feast, a newly published magic work.

“Yes, partially.” Roscoe nodded. “We are appropriately placed in the Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim hallway.”

“That’s a long name.” Ashley looked at her boyfriend.

Roscoe smiled, grabbed his girlfriend’s hand beneath the table. He read her eyes, knew the question she was silently asking. “He was a lot of things, including an occult writer.”

“Ah. Cool.”

“Ugh,” a sideways sitting Monáe groaned, and finally looked up from her sketchpad. Another tingle at her spine alerted her to an increase in strong negative feelings, those of the Enemies pair sitting opposite each other. She shivered, feeling like the air was slowly becoming too thick to breathe.

“Mo, you know I love you”—Hailey, woozy and beginning to see double, hung her head in defeat—“but please get a grip. You’re giving me a wicked headache.”

“Sorry. Trying,” Monáe said detached, focused on controlling her gift’s strength to lessen both her own and her Guardian’s discomfort.

Suddenly, Ashley got up and headed to the bathroom with Tinafollowingshortly behind.

When the girls reached the multi-stall lavatory, Ashley did a preliminary check of the premises. Deciding the coast was clear, she locked the main door.

As the woman backed her into a corner, one of Tina’s eyebrows rose. “You know this is starting to resemble the beginning of a bad porno, right?”

Ashley looked her friend over, stared her down. Looking into dark eyes, the Guardian could no longer fight her instincts. “Spill. Now.”

“What are you-”

“Cut the bullshit, babe. You know what I mean, you and that man, what happened?”

“Now which man are we-”

“I’m not doing this with you right now.” Ashley retaliated.

“Then don’t. You texted me to meet in here, not the other way around,” Tina snapped, recognizing the bite in her words and Ashley’s stunned face a few seconds too late. She uttered an expeditious apology. “Just stop worrying. Everything’s fine.”

“Oh, fuck me.”

“I’d rather not.” The brunette smirked at her friend’s absentminded turn of phrase.

Ashley glared, crossed her arms, and jutted one of her hips to the side. “You know damn well what I meant.”

“I mean, if you were my type and I swung that way-”

“Focus!” Ashley began rubbing her throbbing temples. How her friend could break a bone without flinching but fight tooth and nail to escape a sympathetic hug was beyond her. “I’m not buying that you’re fine. Earlier your stomach was bandaged like a mummy, so if you think that I’m going to let this go, you must not know me very well.”

Tina knew her friend well enough.

“You’re no fun.” She looked the Guardian up and down with a moue of annoyance. “Honestly”—Tina paused for a moment, remembered her fainting spell—“I’m not sure what happened.”

With Tina talking, Ashley knew she’d gotten her way. She stepped back, sat on the powder pink countertop wedged between the main door and a hand dryer. Then, signaling for Tina to continue, she leaned back on one of the lengthy mirrors.

“Some drama went down, but I don’t really want to get into it right now.”

“Babe, you and Brandon are always in drama, but this…” Ashley took a moment to think her thoughts through. “This just seems… different. Like shit hit the fan, you’re both hurt. I still remember when you guys met in our first virtual meeting. You both said that you’d keep a healthy distance, and per your G/P pact, it’s known that you two don’t get along, so this”—she pointed at Tina’s stomach—“is concerning. Humor me, let me in.”

The brunette smiled. “You’re a regular junior detective.”

“Girlie, that’s not the point and you know it.” Ashley ignored a fervid knock at the bathroom door. The redhead couldn’t help how her serious façade broke down at Tina’s playful smile. She smiled back.

Leaning on the wall, Tina sighed, knowing Ashley wouldn’t back off if she wasn’t fed a few crumbs. With a deep breath, she vomited a highly redacted version of the previous night’s events, only including how Brandon had jumped her outside a room and fucked with her to her irritation.

“Okay, first off, that’s hot as hell”—the bondage-loving Ashley fanned herself—“but back up real quick.”

Tina winced as she fought back bile. “Thank you for that scarily vivid look into your sex life.” She shook away the mental image of a naked Roscoe.

“Sorry.” Ashley tittered.

The Protected sighed at a series of speedy knocks. She knew she and Ashley had to leave the restroom soon.

“Babe, tell me, do you feel safe with Brandon around? Living together must make you uncomfortable, right? Is he actively trying to harm you?” the older woman interrogated. “Just give the word, I know a few good places to hide a body.”Tina gave her friend a questionable look. The Guardian shrugged. “Ross went on a serial killer fact binge about a month ago.”

The Protected giggled girlishly. “I’ll remember that for when it gets really bad.”

Ashley stared her friend down, her expression suddenly serious again. Another crescendo of upset knocks and poorly muffled curses hit the bathroom door.

“I’m fine. Brandon’s… innocuous.”

“I’d use any other word but that one.”

Tina rolled her eyes, continued, “We just got out of control with our… expressive natures.” She raised one hand as if taking an oath. “I swear you won’t see me on any real-life crime shows.”

With a quick look at her friend, Ashley slumped her shoulders. She was out of ideas, and from experience, knew that Tina wouldn’t talk if she didn’t want to. Before unlocking the bathroom door, the feline-like woman sighed, “Babe, just… let me know if you’re ever in danger. You know you can always count on me.”

With a gentle smile, Tina nodded.

“It’s all yours, ladies.” The tall, skinny woman stepped aside as her gaze met those of the madwomen who’d been locked outside. She noticed how their evil eyes and stank faces traveled from her to Tina.

“Locking it wasn’t my idea,” an innocent-looking Tina said as the angry trio briskly become a duo with the youngest-looking female darting to a toilet. “After all, I thought making some lesbian voyeur shit would be cool, but nooooo,” she dragged the last word out as she simultaneously raised her phone that had “somehow” switched on its video mode.

Ashley couldn’t help but chuckle at the senior-aged women’s shocked and disgusted expressions. “You’re too much, babe. Let’s go. The others are probably looking for us.”

Inside Occult 101…

As soon as Tina crossed the darkened room’s threshold, she noticed its pleasant scent. Looking to a stack of shelves in one corner, she saw the source, jarred plants. They were sat between colorful vials, shiny trinkets, and a few brightly burning candles.

“Umm, are we in the right place?”Dee’s voice quaked as she inadvertently clutched Denzel’s sleeve.

“Hold up. Don’t tell me ya scared of a lil’ poor lightin’.” Denzel grinned.

Tina looked around. She couldn’t blame Dee for being a bit put off with their hellish surroundings, a heavy granite gargoyle in each corner of the room, pictures of occult activities on the walls.

Teenage angst, check. Tina laughed as she looked at unknown symbols, skulls, and nightmarish creatures.

Spying a poorly lit wall with newspaper clippings, Dee saw headlines referring to spontaneous combustion and abductions. As she did a scan of think pieces that twisted logic to explain away “unrealistic” creatures of the night, she jumped. “Asshole!” she yelled at Denzel who’d scared her by pinching her side. The Protected laughed as his Guardian ignored the room’s creepy wall shadows to shove him.

“My gorgeous souls, good morning,” an unknown but buoyant voice welcomed the class. “I apologize. It seems I lost track of time.”

“So, a talking curtain is our new professor?” Tina chuckled.

“I assure you. I’m human,” the disembodied voice spoke again.“Forgive me, my mobility isn’t the best.” Getting up from their silent prayer, the 38-year-old flicked on the room’s overhead lights. As they moved the curtain aside and limped into the open with a black cane, the professor introduced themselves, “Anywho, I’m Bishop.”

Tina took in the slender, 5’9’’, androgynous in appearance ordained priest. Before she noticed Bishop’s traditional black attire and wooden rosary, Tina noticed their shortened chestnut hair, and beauty marked visage with heterochromatic blue and brown, almond-shaped eyes that were nearly engulfed by long lashes.

___________________________

Bishop, a priest who opts for gender-neutral pronouns, like they, them, and theirs, holds generally unorthodox beliefs.

___________________________

To start class, the priest gave their credentials. They explained how they were raised in Germany but learned their trade of exorcism in Rome’sVatican City. Every now and again, Bishop would traverse the room with their fabric chair, weave around the fluffy pillows their students sat upon, to write an important point on the whiteboard.

“Anna Elisabeth “Anneliese” Michel was a German woman who underwent Catholic exorcism rites the year before her death.” Once their class seemed to be on one accord, the priest spoke with their hands to provide more context.“ She had been previously diagnosed with epileptic psychosis and had a history of psychiatric treatment that was overall not effective. It’s believed that Anneliese’s treatment was impotent because she is thought to have been possessed by multiple evil demons…”

As class went on, questions were answered. At a particular question of Roscoe’s, it was explained that the freshmen would begin with simple lessons. “To start, you’ll learn prayers, meditation, and the use of certain tools.” With their smile, Bishop made the gap in their front teeth visible. “Oh, shoot”—they snapped their fingers—“I almost forgot I need to see who’s here.”

As they took attendance, Bishop successfully butchered everyone’s name, and when they came across Monáe’s, their bushy brows knitted together. After repeated complaints of her name not being pronounced Mona, the clergyperson innocently resorted to calling the minuscule madame Doll and Dollface.

At the development of Monáe’s new nickname, Denzel started his angry muttering, and Dee, sat beside him, relished in his misery. She nearly lost it when she heard the short man say something about fighting off a lolicon-loving priest for his woman.

Two hours later…

“That class was borin’, stupid! I don’t get why we hafta take it!” Denzel complained, his normally jocular mood nowhere to be found.

“Was it? I was thoroughly entertained.” Dee squinted.

“Any class with that guy, Connor, is a highlight for me.” Ashley giggled.

“Honeybun?” Roscoe frowned before Ashley kissed his cheek.

“Disgusting,” Denzel blurted out.

“I just meant that he’s entertaining. ‘Yo, what is ya, a chick or a dick? Ya confusing me.’ Poor Bishop.” Ashley stifled her chuckles.

“His libido does seem to be quite high.” Roscoe scrubbed his beard in contemplation.

“Just one more class,” Dee cheered.

“Thank God!” Tina was ready for the day to be over.

“I hope you remember a week of non-G/P classes is still ahead of us. I expect for you to be a stalwart student,” Roscoe chimed in.

“Of course, Dad,” Tina said with mock irritation.

Monáe sighed. “At least our non-G/P classes will be easy. It’s these other ones twice a week that are going to kill me.” She shivered.“Ugh, the occult class is my literal nightmare.”

“True.” Hailey threw her arm around her bestie’s shoulder. “You can barely boil water, so how you can be expected to get a protection potion together, the world may never know.”

“Was that necessary?” Monáe sighed, momentarily defeated.

“Hey, you can draw your butt off, so making wards will be your forte.”

“Speaking of drawing, I can’t do my duties as the secretary of animation club if I can’t attend the meetings because we have some assignment due in Dr. Jade’s, who side note, I’m pretty sure hates me.”

“Ridicule,” Roscoe piped in with his friend’s native tongue.

“How’s anything ridiculous? Did you not see how she looked at me?”

“C’mon, Ms. Pouty Pants.” Hailey tuggedMonáe along. “Let’s get to you to the next class before you drown in a puddle of your tears.”

Inside Djedi Hall’s secret gymnasium - 03:45 P.M.

Monáe gasped. Denzel shot to her side.“What’s wrong? Did you see a bug or something?” He looked around her feet frantically.

“What? No.” She shook her head before querying in Roscoe’s direction, “Is Dr. Jade teaching this class too?”

Hailey stopped dead in her tracks. “I can’t do the hard-ass twice in one day,” she nearly shrieked.

“Howdy, partners!” said a raspy, southern drawl. “The name’s Mr. Raven and I’ll be your sensei for this year’s tactical trainin’.”

Monáe paused. “Hmm. That’s strange.”

“Rosie?” Roscoequestionedthe young teen.

The girl took a second before responding. “I thought… I thought that I felt Dr. Jade’s aura, but it seems I was wrong”—she pointed at Mr. Raven—“because she’s not the man standing in the center of the room.”

“Hallelujah, miracles do happen!” Hailey nearly jumped with joy.

Roscoe continued, “Are you saying that the doc and this professor have the same aura?”

“No. No two people can have the same aura because they’re like fingerprints, unique to each person,” the human mood ring clarified.

Tina shrugged. With a pat to Monáe’s back, she said, “We’re all trying to get a handle on our powers, so it’s understandable that you got confused.”

Monáe nodded and put the weird mix-up to rest as she climbed the lion decorated bleachers.

As his young’uns filed in, Mr. Raven, a trim-limbed and craggy Guardian of 45 years, smiled, his mottled, sunken cheeks and cinnamon, bag riddled eyes apparent even at a distance. He looked like a ranch hand in his studded, western-style hat, faded bootcut jeans, white t-shirt, and spurred cowboy boots.

“Whoo, we gon’ have a good time levelin’ up together.” The native Texan exuded a boyish charm with his hands on his hips.

Taking a seat, Tina looked upon the rather large but nearly bare training ground, spied its oversized, centered sandpit and off to the side obstacle course. Looking at the lengthy partition on the room’s left side, the girl was reminded of her old middle school gym.

“Tell me,” a cavalier Kyle said in his smarmy voice, “why do those of us with superior powers need tactical training? I don’t even think you’re qualified to teach us, MacDonald.”

“Oh, give us a break, man,” Francis chided the younger Protected.

Mr. Raven was slightly flustered, clearing his throat and playing with the small brass hoops in his ears. “Believe me, Frog,”—he regained his composure as he fiddled with his leather belt, an embossed silver buckle with the words Never 2 Old 2 Gameon it—“evadin’ and fightin’ spirits is my specialty. I got the proper stats, and plenty of experience.” Mr. Raven pointed to the scar on his chiseled jaw, the row of slashes that’d been a distraction for Tina.

The rich teen looked at the man’s warped right side. “So impressive,” here marked snidely.

At Kyle’s comment, Mr. Raven pulled a small remote from his back pocket. With the push of a button, the bleachers’ railing engaged. Previously concealed bars rose to the ceiling’s wards from small, holy water-filled lines in the ground. When secured, the bars jingled with silver and gold charms.

“Never leave home without it.” Mr. Raven, for good measure, poured a semicircle of salt around the seating. Here turned the mineral baggy to his front pocket and detached the braided bullwhip at his belt.

Once everything was in position, Mr. Raven pointed his remote at the room’s sizeable partition. A shadowy section of it ground open, and an intimidating, black, snake-like being slinked from its captivity. For a moment, it looked around, confused. Then, it laid eyes on its captor.

As the creature before him reverted to its original, dog-like form, the seasoned Guardian quickly stored his remote.“This here is what’s called a Nalusa Falaya,” the nimble Mr. Raven began, dodging the creature’s strike with ease. “It’s an evil, devious shapeshiftin’ creature believed to be a demon or wood spirit.” Mr. Raven and the Nalusa Falaya began circling each other. “The creature’s existence was discovered by a Native American tribe, the Choctaw people.”

When the professor evaded another fast-paced attack, the prowling beast erupted with an ear-splitting growl, but as his students grimaced, Mr. Raven kept his focus.

“Nala, as I call this one, and its kind are humanoid in a sense, bipedal, and extremely tall. Their anatomy is covered in black fur made of shadows, and the sharp spines protrudin’ from their back are as recognizable as their small eyes and pointed, elf-like ears.”

The professor did a slight twirl, giving his whip some air before cracking it on the wooden floor, close to where Nala had skidded to an emergency stop.

“At their maturity, Nala’s kind enjoy hidin’ in swamps, marshlands, and forests. They call areas like Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida their home. Their preferred victims are travelers.” Mr. Raven contorted himself as Nala swiped at his torso. “The damn things call out to ’em at night, then jump and scare ’em into a state of unconscious, you know, fix to eat ‘em.” When the lumbering creature lunged, the man somersaulted underneath it. “Sometimes they’ll curse a victim by stickin’ ’em with a small thorn that’ll make ’em commit horrid acts.”

“Blah, blah, blah,” a bored Kyle sounded. “Your Nala is nothing but an overgrown puppy. Now teach us something useful!”

The Nalusa Falaya looked Kyle’s way. It made a rasping noise, ignored the whistle Mr. Raven made for it.

Watching Nala stalk toward the teenager, the Guardian jumped into its line of sight. “Nala, hey, over here!” he chirruped. The creature responded with a reedy huff, started to circle and survey its options.

In the momentary calm, Mr. Raven peaked at his troublesome student. “Listen, you damn fool, save your sorry self, and stop talkin’.”

“Why? It’s not like that thing can reach me in here.” Kyle smirked, crossed his legs, and rested his chin on an upturned hand.

“He doesn’t learn.” Dee leaned back in her chair.

With her inner Guardian ready to pounce at any moment, Ashley’s hairs stood on end.

“Something bad is about to happen.” Tina stiffened when she saw Hailey mirror the fiery Guardian.

Kyle, undeterred by his professor’s warning, kept on. “Stop toying with your ugly pet. Get to the point, kill it already.”

Suddenly a scraping sound echoed through the room. Looking down, Mr. Raven saw Nala’s deadly, clawed feet burrow into the floor. Then, quicker than he could blink, Nala was charging at Kyle.

For a second, the frog Protected tasted dread, but then he remembered his ace. Though his legs trembled, and his teeth chattered with fear, Alexander did as he was told. He threw himself in front of his Protected as Nala screeched and swung at the bars, ignored its pain as blisters formed on its skin.

Dee snickered, ready to see Kyle get his ass handed to him. She feigned worried shouting, “No! Bad freaky hybrid thing!”

“Seriously?” Tina pondered from her seat. “You couldn’t be a little more convincing?”

“Shit!” Mr. Raven darted to mount Nala from behind. As he used his whip to suffocate the creature, he growled, “This is why, ugh”—he tightened his grip—“we don’t taunt”—he tightened some more—“them.” When the sneaky Nalusa Falaya tried to shift its shape, it was met with teeth, Mr. Raven biting its dark shoulder. “Not today you don’t,” he grunted around Nala’s odd flesh. After a few more bloody gurgles, the shadow figure finally went slack.

“Christ,” Mr. Raven tumbled with the creature to the ground. He quickly dismounted it, unraveled his whip from its neck. The man took off his hat, revealing a tiny bun of frizzy, black waves. He wiped his brow.

Placing his hat back on his crown, Mr. Raven dropped his whip and dragged the unconscious shadow back to its darkened den. As he locked the beast’s cage, the older Guardian grumbled to himself, and clicked some more of his all-powerful remote’s buttons, lowering the students’ guard gate.

As Kyle lifted his hand to strike a sweat-soaked, goosebumps-covered Alexander, his professor stomped up to him. Hoisting the dapper teen up by his collar, Mr. Raven growled, “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay under the porch. You tellin’ your Guardian to sacrifice themselves for you is beyond despicable, you novice.”

The fire in Mr. Raven’s eyes pissed Kyle off. “Isn’t that your purpose, raven man?”

“Fuck off, asshole.” Brandon said, annoyed.

“Seriously, you have a problem,” an exhausted Ashley added.

“Clam it, Lover,” a still dangling Kyle retorted.

“George,”—Roscoe jumped to his girlfriend’s defense—“your being a dick is going to get someone hurt!”

“Can it, Coco. We were safe behind the bars. The idiot clearly doesn’t know how to kill the thing, so he knocked it out.”

“You donkey, if you would’ve let the lesson play out, then you would’ve learned there are no known ways to kill the beast,” Mr. Raven squawked.

His ass of a student gaped. “If you know there’s no way to kill the thing, why would you let it loose? Are you stupid? How can you guarantee your students’ safety?”

“Kiss my go-to-hell,” the man scolded, his southern accent stronger than before as he practically threw Kyle from the aisle.

Distorted but persistent growls penetrated the partition behind which Nala had been tossed.

With an annoyed sigh, the professor trilled, “We barely got through the prologue.” Retrieving his whip, he twittered, “Today’s class is terminated. Return to your spawn points. I must retrain Nala.”

Stumbling from the harsh shove, Kyle shouted, “You can’t cancel class! I pay good money to get a full day of education out of you!”

“We’re all here for free, jackass. Ya forgetting it’s ya fault he’s canceling.” Connor pushed the preppy man aside.

Ignoring the clear beginnings of a scuffle, Mr. Raven put his hands on his hips and gingerly made his way to the false wall.

Sometime later…

On the ride back to her place, Tina dodged Ashley’s interrogating glances as if she were getting paid to do so. For each of his girlfriend’s sketchy and concerned looks, the teen pestered Roscoe with a question.

___________________________

Who knew you could learn about landscaping and architecture when you asked about a water fountain?

___________________________

As Tina unlocked the front door, Brandon noticed a white package haphazardly tossed to the side of the steps. How it ended up in the bushes when the mailbox is on the other side of the door, and there’s a porch one can see from the driveway, he had questions.

“Who throws a box labeled fragile in the bushes?” He picked the small thing up.

Inside Tina and Brandon’s home - 06:45 P.M.

“You’re bothered by something and it’s slowly aggravating me,” Brandon said, annoyed that he had to break the silence he’d grown accustomed to.

Tina’s forkful of rice and pork her Guardian had whipped up paused at her lips. “What makes you say that?” she inquired.

“Your murderous glances.”

“Maybe your annoying face just gets under my skin.” Tina entered full brat mode as she continued stuffing her face.

“Nah.” Brandon didn’t take the bait. “I can tell it’s something else.” He tapped his head, referencing the shared G/P connection. Pushing his plate away, he placed his elbows on the table. As he leaned into Tina, she backed away a bit. “So, are you gonna tell me, or are you still deciding on my cause of death?”

The teenager pushed her plate away, taking her Guardian up on his challenge.

“If you need ideas, I have a few ways I’ve always wanted to go out.” Brandon smirked.

“Morbid, but duly noted.” Tina giggled adorably, slowly learning that her asshole Guardian could give her a good laugh or two.

After a few long seconds of silence, Brandon finally spoke, “Listen, if you’re not gonna tell me what’s up then you’re doing dishes tonight.”

Rolling up her striped pajamas sleeves, Tina smiled. “That’s fine.” Doing dishes was actually one of her preferred chores. Pretty full already, she stood, started tidying up, but when she turned, her side gave out. “Fuck,” Tina groaned painfully. She tossed her small pile of dishware on the countertop.

“Come again?” Brandon turned her way.

Tina tried to curb the pain in her abdomen with a slow exhale. Lifting her nightshirt, she inspected her bindings.

“You fucking idiot,” Brandon growled and gawked. He got on one knee, grabbed Tina by the hips, “Why didn’t you listen to the poindexter?” The woman leaped at her Guardian’s touch. “In the short time I’ve known you, I thought I learned all the stupid shit you were capable of, but this, really?” The man spun Tina around, inspected her from all sides.

“Stop ogling, it’s weird!” Tina blurted out.

“You wish,” Brandon automatically responded.

“Why does everyone insist on touching me today? Ah!” Tina flinched when Brandon grazed the dimples in her back. She was ticklish.

At the alarming sound, the man jerked away. He got up and walked to the stove.

Tina pulled her shirt down, ignored the lingering heat in her abdomen. “Don’t do that again!”

“Tch. I gathered.” Brandon pushed his tresses from his eyes. “Damn.” He felt a pain in his chest and took a deep breath to center himself.

Feeling a sudden headache, Tina maneuvered around her Guardian, getting a glass of water. “Should I ask why you just got paler than normal?” She turned to the older man.

“I was born pale,” Brandon answered as he took the box he’d previously tossed on the couch to his room.

Tina, hot on her Guardian’s heels, stopped in his doorway, caught off guard by how clean and organized everything was. Since he hadn’t finished moving in until late last night, Tina hadn’t seen what Brandon had done to his space.

I want that chair, ooo, and that rug, Tina thought as she eyed some of Brandon’s things. Interior decorating, something else she didn’t know men were capable of before now.

“Why are you following me?” Brandon asked as he headed to his large walk-in closet. When the woman didn’t respond nor leave, he changed tactics. “Actually, I have a better question, why didn’t you snitch on me? I’m the one that caused your… issue, so I’m surprised that you didn’t rat me out. You could’ve told the professors, or spilled the beans to the two giants, but you didn’t.”

“You really do think I’m stupid.”

For a moment, Brandon held his tongue. “Why didn’t you tell me you got the bruise when it happened?” He continued to rummage through some boxes.

“I know better than to reveal when I’m weak to my enemy. We’re literally in an Enemies partnership, so even if there are shadows of calm between us, like this morning’s peace offering”—Tina chuckled to herself—“I’ll never forget what we are.”

“So, you’re saying my trying to make amends failed?” Brandon looked over his shoulder at Tina. “Don’t they say the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach?”

“I’d prefer if you came nowhere near my internal organs. Stay out.” Tina squinted. “Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars.”

Backing away, Tina realized she’d have to sort out the new information regarding Enemies relationships on her own. She shook her head.

It is what it is, I’m still an independent woman, dammit.

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