The Wanderers

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chapter 23

I had the most killer headache in the morning. Only this time I knew it was self-inflicted. The pounding in my head reminded me why drinking in excess was bad. I forced myself out of bed and into the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth. I turned on the light and squinted at the brightness, quickly turning it back off.

I felt like there were tiny little creatures dancing around on my brain. I gripped the sides of the sink and swore I would never drink again. I fished through my stuff, hoping to find some aspirin. When I found the bottle I popped the lid, filled a glass with water from the tap, then I took two tablets. I sat down on the toilet and pressed my forehead against the cool porcelain of the bathtub. It felt amazing.

I sat there like that, hunched over, head resting coolly for a few minutes before I toughed it up and made myself stand. I picked up my toothbrush, applied the desired amount of toothpaste, and brushed softly and slowly and thoroughly. After I spit and rinsed, I hung the toothbrush up in its proper holder and examined my teeth in the mirror. I ran my tongue over them seeing if I could feel sharp points, or fangs. Nothing. Next I washed my face. The cold water felt good on my skin, refreshing. When I was done, I stared at my reflection in the mirror, watching the green eyes that looked back at me.

I wondered what they would look like if they glowed. I squinted hard, concentrating, trying to make them glow. “Ella? What are you doing?” my mom startled me.

“Nothing,” I said, a little embarrassed.

She just smiled. “I was about to order breakfast. Are you hungry?”

I clenched my stomach, wondering if it was safe to eat. “Maybe just some cereal.” She smiled again, understanding, and walked back in to the living room without another word. I looked down and just then realized I was wearing pajamas. I didn’t remember changing last night so I just assumed my mom put these on me after I passed out. I grabbed a sweatshirt and headed out to the living room. It was empty, quiet. “Where is everyone?” I asked, almost positive this place was packed with people last night. I scratched my head, thinking, how drunk was I?

“Hmm?” my mom said.

“Weren’t there a bunch of people here last night?”

“I’m surprised you even remember that,” she teased.

I looked down, embarrassed. “Uh...yeah...um, about last night...”

“Already forgotten,” she said, waving it off and handing me a cup of coffee. “I was young once too, you know.” She eyed me with a smirk and flicked my chin.

“Does dad know?” I cringed at the thought. I was in enough trouble with him as it was and wasn’t in the mood for a lecture.

“No, he doesn’t. We’ll just keep this between you and me. No need to upset your father.”

“Thanks, mom. Where is dad?”

“Your father and the guardians left early this morning and will return later this evening. So it is just us girls today.”

I did love spending time with my mom, especially girl time. Growing up with two older brothers sometimes made it harder so my mom would always try her best to set aside time for her and me. “What do you want to do today?” I asked her.

“Whatever you want, honey,” she said, handing me a freshly buttered croissant.

“Can we invite Josie and Mrs. McNaughton?”

“Of course, sweetie.”

I racked my brain trying to think of things for us to do. I looked down at my nails, which were still good, and I was just at the spa. Shopping? For once I thought I was actually shopped out. I thought maybe a movie, but there was nothing in I wanted to see. Then it hit me. I remembered seeing a sign at the theatre. One of the local animal shelters was looking for volunteers. My mom and I were always helping with the local shelters back home so I thought that would be perfect. I told her my idea and she loved it. I called Josie who also thought it was a great idea. Her mom, on the other hand, not so much, but she came along anyways.

The shelter was more than happy to welcome us and put us to work right away. They told us how they were in desperate need of supplies so Josie and I volunteered to go get some for them. My mom didn’t like the idea of us going off by ourselves so she made us take two guards with us. I didn’t know them, but I knew I didn’t like them. I would prefer Gabe over them any day, however, he was busy helping my dad. I stifled a sigh and climbed into the back seat with Josie.

We found a local pet store only a few blocks away. I think Josie and I went a little nuts with our purchases, but we were having too much fun picking out toys and cute little collars and leashes. If we had our way we probably would have cleaned out the store. We bought so much stuff it almost didn’t fit in the car on the way back. Josie and I had to sit with bags on our laps. We even had to have a delivery van drop off all the food.

When we returned and walked in with only a few bags my mom looked at us surprised. “Is that all you bought?”

Josie and I smiled at each other. “No, there’s more. We just couldn’t carry it all in.”

The shelter owner came over to thank us for our donation, pleased to have had even the littlest bit of help. One of the pet store workers propped open the door causing the owner to look at us funny. Her jaw dropped when she saw the truck load of stuff that was being carried into the shelter. I didn’t think she’d ever had a donation quite as large as ours. “I don’t know what to say? Thank you so much. You don’t know how much this means to us. Thank you,” she repeated, smiling brightly.

We helped store all the items we purchased. We didn’t really figure in whether or not there would be room for everything. Luckily she had a storage shed in the back where we put the extra items. Once we were done with that, we helped clean the animal’s cages, helped administer medicine to those who needed it, and even took the time to play with some of the animals. I thought that last part was a perk. When it came time for us to leave we thanked the owner for letting us help and she welcomed us to come by anytime. Mrs. McNaughton even enjoyed herself and ended up adopting a tiny Chihuahua that had been abandoned. When she went to pay the processing fee the owner waved it, saying we had already helped her so much she couldn’t accept anything else. Jade, not one to be told no, insisted on paying. She wrote her a check for a large sum of money, more than what the fee should had been.

The owner gave in and took the check. I thought she was going to pass out when she looked down at all those zeros. “Now you will have more than enough money to get medicine and hire more staff so you yourself can take a much needed vacation,” Jade told her.

“Th-thank,” the owner stuttered, still in shock. “A-are you...angels?”

Josie and I looked at each other and started to giggle. My mom narrowed her eyes at us. “No, not angels, just people who really care about what you are doing here and are fortunate enough to have the means to help out.” The owner gave my mom a big hug, thanking here over and over again. I then noticed my mom took one of the business cards and slid it in her purse. Most likely because I knew she would need the address to send anonymous donations in the future. My mom wasn’t the type to help once and then that was it. She would continue to give until she couldn’t give any more. And the reason she always left the donations anonymous was because she wasn’t in it for the credit. She just loved doing it to help people out.

On the way out I gave my mom a hug. She flinched slightly at first, startled by my sudden need for affection. “You know I love you, right?” I told her.

“Of course I do honey, but I never get tired of hearing you tell me,” she said, hugging me back.

“Oh, there’s this ice cream shop down the street that is wonderful. Do you want to go?” I asked.

“Sounds perfect, but let’s wait until we get situated,” she said, referring to all the stuff Jade had bought for their new dog.

I sighed, having no patience to wait while they loaded the car. “How about Josie and I head down a while and meet you there,” I said, grabbing Josie and taking off before she had the chance to answer.

“No Ella, wait,” she called after me, but I didn’t care. I was in such a good mood that Josie and I skipped down to the Ice cream shop laughing all the way ignoring my mom’s pleas to wait for them and the guards. All thoughts of joy came to a screeching halt when we rounded the corner. I stopped dead in my tracks.

“Ella,” said Jack, who was suddenly standing right in front of me.

I was too shocked to speak. I knew I shouldn’t show fear, but with everyone drilling into my head about how dangerous he was it was hard not to. Josie tried to pull me back, but I wouldn’t budge. “I see you decided to believe Tristan instead of me,” he clicked his tongue, tsking. “I’m guessing you figured it out by now, what I want?”

I managed to make my body work and took a step back. Jack shook his head. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” I thought I’d make a run for it. I knew I couldn’t out-run him but with the guards just around the corner I could maybe – “It won’t work,” Jack said, like he knew what I was thinking. I lifted a leg and decided to take the chase anyway. Boy was I wrong. Jack grabbed me and threw me up against the wall so hard he knocked the wind out me. I fell to the ground trying to breathe. Josie attacked him by raking her nails down his face. He growled and snarled, turning on her. I tried to scream but nothing came out. He sent her flying into a parked car. She hit the windshield and rolled down onto the hood, not moving.

I looked back up at him. He grabbed me by the top of my jacket and pulled me up from the ground slamming me into the wall again. I thought I was going to pass out from the pain. “It’s a shame, you know. The one you claim to trust and love so much is the one who is going to get you killed,” he said, his face inches from mine making sure his message was heard. “I will be back for you. That I promise. And unlike some people, I keep my promises.”

I heard the sound of feet scrambling and the static of walkie-talkies. The guards were finally coming to my rescue, but by time they got to me, Jack was already gone. I fell into the arms of a guard at Jack’s hasty escape. The guard picked me up and placed me in the car next to Josie who was now conscious. “Josie, are you okay?” I asked, voice scratchy.

“Yeah,” she said, rubbing the back of her neck. “Just really bleeping sore.”

“You’re bleeding,” I said, noticing the cut on her elbow when she reached up.

“Oh man, this was one of my favorite coats,” she said, pulling at the tear. I rolled my eyes knowing she was fine. We pulled out of there so fast I barely had time to see who else was in the car with us. I did a head check and noticed it was only Josie, me and one guard.

“Where are our moms?” I asked, concerned.

“There was another car. The guard immediately took them in their other car and the other guard stayed behind to try and fine Jack,” Josie said, checking out the total damage of her clothes. I just sat back and did my best to focus on breathing.

Back at the hotel we were completely surrounded by guards until we were safely in our hotel rooms. I thought it was a little much, but clearly not to my dad. Jade and my mom were already in the room when we returned. “Ella!” Everyone ran to me at once, suffocating me.

“Can everyone please back up?” I said, needing air.

“Ella, I’m so sorry they just shoved me into a car and I –”

“Mom, it’s okay. The important thing is that you’re safe and that’s all that matters to me,” I said, hugging her for the second time today.

I flinched slightly when she touched my shoulder. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just a little sore,” I said, feeling the ache in my shoulder.

“I can help with that,” Tristan said, stepping forward. He lifted his hand and I watched as a silvery blue light started to shine all around his hand. He smiled at my in awe expression and stood behind me placing his hand on my shoulder. I felt a small cooling sensation and then the pain in my shoulder dissipated.

“Thank you,” I said, falling back into him.

“You hurt anywhere else?” he asked.

“Hello, still bleeding over here,” Josie said, pointing to her elbow. “How about you bring some of your blue light over here,” Josie whined.

“Go help Josie, I’ll be fine,” I said, giving him a quick kiss before I pushed him away.

I turned back to my mom who handed me a bottle of water and I noticed my dad was no longer in the room. “Um, where’s dad?”

“He needed some time to himself,” my mom said, looking distraught. She patted my hand and kissed my forehead. If I had to guess it looked as if my mom was about to cry. She was one of the strongest people I knew. She walked out of the room and into another bedroom closing the door behind her. Not knowing what else to do I turned back to Josie and Tristan.

“Hey, does that thing work on clothes too?” Josie asked.

“No,” Tristan said simply.

“How are you feeling?” Josie asked me once she was all patched up.

“I’m not sure,” I said honestly. Tristan put his arm around me and held me close.

“Well my parents have me on twenty-four hour lock down. I have to go back to my room, alone with them, until this whole mess is resolved. I heard some heads are going to roll,” Josie said, dragging a finger across her neck and making an eck sound.

I had a feeling tonight was going to be a long night. I said goodbye to Josie and let Tristan lead me into the bedroom. I changed and sat down on the bed, burying my head in my hands. “Are you okay?” Tristan asked.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “He was really close, Tristan. If the guards hadn’t gotten there when they did I don’t know what he would have done.”

He pulled me down on the bed and wrapped his arms around me. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to protect you,” he said, upset.

“I don’t think there was anything you could have done.”

“I could have tried, something, anything.”

I turned around to face him and placed a hand on his cold cheek. “I’m glad you weren’t there. I don’t know what I would have done if anything happened to you.” He closed his eyes and placed a hand over mine. “You’re so cold.”

“Not for long,” he smiled, pressing his lips to mine. As much as I long for his lips on mine, now wasn’t the time.

“I can’t,” I said, pulling back. “Not now at least.” He sat up, but I pulled him back down. “Can you just hold me, for a little?” I pleaded, needing his warmth. He obliged. We both just lied there taking comfort in one another.

I hadn’t realized I’d fallen asleep until I was woken by the sound of yelling. “What the hell were you thinking?” I heard my dad’s voice echoing through the room. I sat up and rubbed my eyes still not quite awake.

“You have any idea what could have happened?” he continued.

I got up out of bed. I didn’t think it was fair for my dad to come down on my mom like that. None of this was her fault. “Dad,” I said groggily, still half a sleep. “It wasn’t moms fault.” He turned away not wanting to look at either of us. He stood by the window staring out in to the night sky. My mom was sitting at the table, head down. I walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. She clasped hers over mine and I could feel her soften a little. “Dad?” I called, hoping I could find a way to get him to reason.

He bowed his head in defeat. “Jamila, I’m sorry,” he said, turning around to face her.

“I know,” she said, standing up to join him by the window. I was surprised to see my mom let him off the hook like that. I thought for sure she would have ripped him to shreds for yelling at her the way he did.

“I just don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you girls,” he said, turning around to face her.

“It would take a lot more than some measly teenage rogue vamp to get rid of me,” my mom smiled teasingly. “You forget how we met?” She raised a brow at my dad.

He smiled, wrapping his arms around. “How could I ever forget that,” he said, bending down to kiss her.

“Um hello, I’m still here,” I said when they didn’t pull apart. Neither of them seemed to even notice me. They just continued making out like two teenagers. “Ugh, nasty,” I said, walking away and back in to the bed room.

I crawled back into bed and tucked my arms under the covers and over Tristan. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

I nodded. “Yes, more than fine. I think I might have to go wash out my eyes though.”

“Why is that?” he asked, unsure.

“Ugh, I almost don’t want to repeat it for fear of reliving it.”

“That bad, huh?”

“They were practically undressing each other in front of me,” I shuddered. Tristan chuckled and tugged me closer to him.

“And what’s wrong with that?”

“They’re my parents. It’s gross.”

“Well how else do you think you got here?” he smiled, knowing how uncomfortable this was making me.

“Please, stop,” I begged. He laughed, amused. “It’s not funny.”

“It is a little.” I pushed him off of me and rolled over to the other side of the bed. “Oh c’mon.” He moved closer to me and pulled me back into him. I allowed him to hold me because I felt safe in his arms.

After a few minutes I asked, “Tristan, are you worried?”

“Worried about what?”

“Jack.”

He let out a sigh. “I’m confident your father and all the guardians will handle it.”

“Yeah but, he still managed to get to me today, with two guards.”

“Those two guards were incompetent boobs and were taken care of. There will not be another slip up again,” he said with anger in his tone. I didn’t have the same confidence he did about the other guards. Jack was smart and would find a way to get to me no matter what it took. “Is something else bothering you?”

“It’s just what Jack said to me. He said the one that I love and trust is the one that will get me killed.” Tristan went slack at the comment, not saying anything. “Tristan, who do you think he was talking about?”

“I don’t know,” he said softly, but the way he said it gave me a feeling he was hiding something. I didn’t dwell on the subject. After the day I had, I didn’t want to deal with anything else. I was just happy that my parents were too distracted to notice Tristan never left.

In the morning I rolled over to find myself alone. I sat up and looked around thinking maybe he was in the bathroom, but it was empty. That was when I found a note on the night stand.

I thought it best that I leave before your parents wake. Will see you later

Love, Tristan

I sighed and laid back down. I tried to fall back asleep but his absence made the bed feel empty. I dragged my feet out of bed and into the bathroom where I brushed my teeth and washed my face. Then I changed out of my pajamas and into some jeans and a shirt and made my way out in search of some breakfast. I was surprised to find the room packed with bodies. Giant men in suits and army gear were milling around with maps, on the phone, or giving out instructions. I looked around for my mom. When I couldn’t find her I called out to her. “Mom, hello? Mom, are you here?” One of the guards heard me and pointed me in her direction.

“Good morning, honey,” she said, pulling me close to her.

“What is all this?”

“Well after yesterday your father called in more guardians and, well, this is the result.”

“I guess this means breakfast is out of the question,” I said, rubbing my grumbling stomach.

“It is a little crowded in here. Why don’t you call Josie and head down to the cafe to get something to eat?”

“I can leave the room?” I asked, surprised.

“Yes, the hotel is secure. We’ve made sure of that.”

“I can go, without any guards?” I tried.

“No, you must at least take one of them with you.”

“But I thought you said the hotel was secure.”

“Just as a precaution,” she said.

I called Josie but she was still sleeping. So then I called Tristan. He told me he was close by and would meet me downstairs in a few minutes. The guard they sent with me was a dark skinned man who looked like he could crush anyone with the pound of his fist. He wasn’t very talkative. In fact he didn’t say a single word. He just kept his eyes on the area.

I met Tristan in the cafe and sat down for what I hoped was a nice, quiet breakfast. I ordered everything from pancakes, eggs, waffles, to bacon and toast. Tristan gave me a funny look and I tried explaining that I didn’t eat last night and was very hungry. It wasn’t a complete lie. Tristan was going to learn just how big my appetite really was. I wasn’t like most girls who nitpicked around their food and barely ate. I was the complete opposite. I ate everything and almost anything and I ate a lot of it.

“Are you not going to get anything?” I asked him after the waiter left.

“I already ate,” he said. I just shrugged as I sipped my orange juice.

“Where did you go this morning?” He looked back at me, brows raised, clearly not hearing my question. “This morning, when you left, where did you go?”

“I just…walked around,” he said, not caring to elaborate. Something was wrong. I could tell from the sound of his voice and the distant look in his eyes. I tried to get him to talk but he offered me only silence. This was not the type of quiet breakfast I had in mind. When he still didn’t offer up any conversation on the way back to the room I stopped him outside our door.

“Okay, what gives?” I said, jumping in front of him. “You’ve been weird all morning. Was there something I did?” I asked, not able to recall anything, but couldn’t be sure.

“No, you didn’t do anything,” he said, caressing my cheek and trying to smile, but I could see that it was forced. There was more pain in his eyes than he was letting on. He rested his hands under my chin and lifted it up to meet his lips. The kiss didn’t feel like any of the others. This one felt different. This one felt like he was saying goodbye.

“Tristan, what’s going on?”

He looked away from me, not able to look me in the eye when he said to me, “Ella, I’m leaving.”

I turned him around to face me. “What do you mean you’re leaving?”

“I mean I need to leave.”

“This is a joke, right?” I laughed, but there was no humor in his expression.

“Tristan, be serious. If this is about my dad, I know he can be a little intense but –”

“Ella, this has nothing to do with him.”

“Then what is this all about?”

“It’s too dangerous for you to be around me,” he said, taking a step away from me.

“What?” I was confused and he wasn’t making any sense.

“Ella, I’m not strong enough...to protect you. I’m just going to end up getting you killed.”

“That is not true,” I said, moving closer to him.

“You heard what Jack said. I’m only going to get you killed. He’s not just after you he’s after me too and will do anything to get to you. I can’t risk that. I need to know you’re safe and if that means I have to leave...that I have to let you go, then that’s what I have to do.”

“Tristan, stop it. You can’t be serious.”

“Ella, I think you should go to that school. It will be better for you. You’ll meet new people and –”

“I don’t want to meet new people. I don’t want to be with anyone else. I want to be with you,” I said, pulling him into me. He peeled my arms off of him and turned around to leave. “Tristan!” I followed him to the elevator. I grabbed his arm and turned him around to face me.

“Ella, I can’t be around you, not when I know I’m the one who’s going to get you killed,” he said scared.

“That won’t happen. I won’t let that happen.”

“You have no idea what you’re dealing with,” he yelled, making me take a step back. “Jack just isn’t some bully you can tattle on and hope it will stop. This is serious Ella. This is life and death and your life I’m not willing to risk.”

“Just my heart,” I said.

He took a step toward me but I backed away. “Ella, I’m doing this for us, for you. I need to take care of this before it gets any worse.”

“Take care of what?” I asked, afraid.

“I’m going to handle it. I’m going to find Jack and finish what I should have the first night,” he growled.

“Are you out of your mind? You’ll get killed!” I cried, thinking he was crazy for doing this.

“Ella, this is the only way...the only way I know how to keep him from getting to you,” he said, trying to get me to understand.

“So it’s okay for you to risk your life but not mine. You expect me to be okay with that?”

“No, that’s why I was hoping to avoid this,” he said, looking away.

“Avoid it how? What, you planned on leaving me a note?” When he didn’t look at me I knew then that was what he intended to do. I shook my head in disgust. “Of course you would because you’re nothing but a coward.”

“Stop it,” he said, glaring at me. “You think I want it to be this way? You think I want to leave you? No I don’t, but I have to. I have to in order to keep you safe!” he said, getting in my face.

“What is wrong with you?” I asked, trying to hold back the tears. He turned to get on the elevator. “You’re not even going to look at me? You’re just going to leave and that’s it?”

He turned around to face me. “Stop acting like a little girl who’s pissed off because she’s not getting her way.”

I slapped him, too shocked from his insult to say anything. He didn’t even flinch. He just stood there with a stone cold expression. I knew he was trying to make me hate him. Make it easier for me to watch him leave on this suicide mission. “Just leave,” I spat. He walked backwards onto the elevator and watched me as I stood with my arms crossed.

Before the doors closed completely he stopped them with his foot and stepped back out of the elevator. He grabbed me and kissed me with such a force he almost knocked me off my feet. “I love you Ella, more than anyone or anything in this world.”

“If you loved me you wouldn’t do this,” I pleaded.

“I have to.”

“Fine, then leave,” I said, pushing him away from me.

“Ella, stop it.”

“You want me to hate you because then it will make it easier, then fine. I hate you!” I yelled, pounding on his chest and pushing him into the elevator.

“Ella, stop it!” he tried grabbing my arms but I stepped out of reach. “You don’t mean that.”

“You promised you would always protect me,” I cried, no longer able to hold back the tears.

“And that’s what I’m doing,” he argued.

“But you already broke your promise,” I said, feeling defeated. “The one thing you couldn’t protect me from was you.” Tristan stood there unable to speak, unable to say the words that would make any of this better.

“Ella,” he reached for me, but I stepped away.

“It’s over, Tristan,” I looked up at the shocked expression on his face. I put my hands up to stop the doors from closing on me. I was gripping at straws, trying everything in my power to keep him here safe with me. If I had to threaten to break up with him to get him to stay then I would.

“Ella, don’t do this,” he begged.

“I’m not going to wait around for the call when they tell me they found your body. If you leave, then it’s over,” I said, hoping my ultimatum would keep him here. When he didn’t say anything, I stepped back off the elevator and watched the tears spill down his face as the doors closed.

I fell to the floor crying hysterically.

“Miss Ella?” Gabe said, gently touching my shoulder. I hadn’t noticed he was here until now.

“Oh Gabe, you have to stop him, you have to tell him not to do this!” I pleaded, hoping he could somehow be the voice of reason that I couldn’t.

“Miss Ella,” he said, bending down next to me. “I’m sorry, but there is nothing I can do to stop him.” I looked at him incredulously thinking he just didn’t care. “Once one has made up their mind there’s no changing it.”

“You know what he’s doing? You knew about this?”

“No, I did not. I only know what I heard.” I narrowed my eyes at him ready to tell him it wasn’t polite to spy. “I wasn’t spying,” he said, clearing understanding my anger towards him. “I was on my way out and overheard the arguing. I kept myself at a distance to give you your privacy, but stayed close enough in case you would need my assistance.” I looked away feeling embarrassed at my behavior. “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t need your pity,” I said harsher than I had intended.

“It is not my job to offer you sympathy,” he said.

“But then why –”

“Because I would have done the same thing.”

“Excuse me?” I said, not understanding. I looked up at him as I wiped the tears from my face.

“I too would have done anything to protect the people I care about. Your friend Tristan is a brave man.”

“Or a very stupid one,” I said with a harsh laugh. I looked away feeling the tears burn in my eyes again. When I turned back around and looked in to Gabe’s teal green eyes, I lost it. “Oh, Gabe,” I cried, throwing my arms around him. Not sure how to react, he just knelt there with his arms by his side. I didn’t care though. I held on tight and continued to cry. Gabe eventually let his guard down and wrapped his arms around me trying to comfort me. Once he realized I wasn’t going to stop crying anytime soon, he picked me up, and carried me back to the room.

When my parents caught sight of hysterical me being carried in by Gabe they rushed to my side thinking the worst. Gabe held up his hand indicating there was no need for immediate attention. My mom directed Gabe to take me into the bedroom and away from prying eyes. Gabe laid me down on the bed softly and pulled my parents aside telling them what happened, being witness to the horrible scene.

“Oh, Ella,” my mom said in a hushed whisper.

“Can you all just leave me alone?” I mumbled into the pillow.

“Come on Jamila,” my dad said, pulling her out of the room. I knew it had to be hard for my mom to just leave like this, but I did not want to talk. I just wanted to be left alone with my own misery.

I cried for hours. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.

Sometime later in the evening my mom came in and checked on me. “Ella...honey?” I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even turn to look at her. I just laid there and continued to stare out the window. She came over and sat down on the bed next to me and brushed strands of hair off of my face. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No,” I said in a hushed voice.

“Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?”

“No.”

“Josie’s here, do you want to talk to her?”

“No, I just want to be left alone.”

My mom sighed, seeing she wasn’t going to get through to me. She kissed me gently, pulled the covers up over me, and left the room. I stared out the window into the dark sky. No stars were shining tonight, too many clouds. I kept watching though, getting sucked in to the emptiness of the night. I started thinking of everything that happened. Not just today, but events from the past few days. And then I started to cry, again. I cried myself to sleep.

I woke up sometime in the middle of the night. Feeling stiff from lying in the bed all day, I got up and went out in to the living room. My mom was sound asleep on the couch and my dad was still working hard to come up with different missions to catch Jack. I took the blanket from the bedroom and placed it over my mom, careful not to wake her. Then I looked around for something to eat.

“Ella, what are you doing up?” my dad asked.

“Couldn’t sleep, hungry. Is there anything to eat?”

“No, sweetheart,” he said, wrapping an arm around my shoulder and giving me a small squeeze. This was his way of telling me he was sorry for everything I had to go through. I wrapped my arms around his waist and hugged him back. I felt his body loosen as he planted a fatherly kiss on my forehead. “I can have one of the guardians go and get you something to eat if you would like.” he offered.

“No, I can do it,” I said, hoping he wouldn’t protest.

I knew he wanted to say no, but after today he knew I needed a break. “Just take Gabe with you,” he said.

“I will,” I said, heading back into my room and grabbing a hoodie and slippers. I waited for Gabe to finish up with some of the other guards and then we took off. He followed me quietly downstairs where I found a twenty-four hour pizzeria. Perfect, I thought.

“Did you eat yet?” I asked Gabe.

“Not while I’m on duty,” he said.

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “Look, you can relax. He’s not going to get in here and you need to eat. I will not have you starve. I don’t think I’ve seen you eat since you got here. You do eat, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do eat,” he said, giving me a half smile, amused at my comment.

“Good, then we eat.” I ordered a large pepperoni pizza for Gabe and I. Turns out he was pretty hungry after all. He ate most of it himself. “You know Gabe you need to relax a little. I have no doubt you’re good at your job, but you don’t have to go by the book all the time. I mean I won’t tell anyone if you do ‘something wrong’,” I said, air quoting the last two words. He cracked another smile and I felt like I was finally getting him to loosen up. “So what made you to decide to become a guard?” I asked, continuing the conversation.

“Guardian,” he said. “The correct term is guardian.”

“Sorry,” I said, stifling an eye roll. “So what made you become a Guard-ian?” I drew out the word being the natural smart ass I was.

“My father was one, and his father, and so on.”

“Okay, I get that it’s a family thing but did you really want to be one or did you feel like you had to?”

“I wanted to be a guardian. It makes me feel proud to be able to protect people. To be a guardian is like the vampire version of being a Marine.”

“But aren’t most guardians used to protect royalty and the wealthy?”

“Yes, but not all,” he said. He looked at me unsure at what I was getting at.

“Wouldn’t you rather be out fighting the good fight then babysitting a bunch of stuck up snobs? I mean doesn’t it get boring?”

He took a sip of his drink and looked at me over the top of his cup. I could see the corners of his lips twitching. “I’ve dealt with worse,” he smirked.

“Did you just insult me?” I asked, trying to hide my smile. He said nothing. I stole a piece of pepperoni off my pizza and popped it into my mouth. “So wouldn’t this make you more like a secret service agent?”

“If you prefer to call it that,” he shrugged. Clearly he wasn’t one for titles.

“So Gabe, you got a girlfriend?” I teased.

“That is not an appropriate topic of conversation,” he said, regressing back to serious mode.

“Why not, oh...gay,” I whispered. “It’s cool with me.”

“No,” he said a little louder than he intended to. He cleared his throat to try and correct himself. “No, I am not gay. This is just not a conversation I should be having with my employer.”

“Technically my dad is your employer so...”

“Miss Ella, it is not very professional to discuss my personal life on the job and therefore this is the end of the conversation,” he said, tightening his lips. Clearly this was a touchy subject and I didn’t want to push his buttons. I didn’t want Gabe to go back to his all work and no play, not after I got him to open up. So I let him be while we finished our pizza.

After we finished eating I wasn’t quite ready to go back yet, so I decided to walk around the hotel and check things out. Gabe offered up no conversation, but it was a comfortable silence so I didn’t mind. On our way back I thought it would be nice to get some pizza for the rest of the guardians who were hard at work upstairs. I had a feeling they didn’t get a chance to eat and thought they could use a nice break.

My dad was pleasantly surprised when we came back with the pizzas. “Thank you, Ella. That was very thoughtful of you,” he said.

“I figured you guys needed a break.”

“Indeed we did,” he smiled.

He let everyone relax and have a few slices before getting right back to business. I wanted to call Josie, but it was too late and I knew she would probably be sleeping. So instead I just went back to bed.

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