The White Goddess

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Day Trip

“One’s enough for now.” Kelly swiped a second piece of fried chicken out of Connor’s hand.

“She’s right.” Abel’s tone was grudging. “You don’t want a full stomach when you head onto the field.”

Connor grumbled but didn’t argue as he wiped his greasy fingers on his shirt.

“Stop that,” Kelly fussed, thrusting a napkin at him. “There’ll be plenty of chicken for y’all when you’re done.”

“You sure about that?” Connor looked pointedly at Serafina.

Serafina froze as everyone turned to look at her. “What?” she asked around a mouthful of chicken. A small pile of bones sat on a napkin spread out on the metal bench beside her.

Everyone laughed. Bonnie’s eyes softened and Abel sent her an affectionate wink. Serafina’s appetite was a running joke to eveyone but Ian. He said it was because she was growing stronger. Not just physically as part of growing up, but her abilities. And it worried him.

The power drill extraction mission in Lakeside had gone smoothly and they’d arrived at the school just before ten. Tryouts didn’t start for another hour but they weren’t the only ones who’d showed up early and the metal stands were already dotted with people.

Bonnie and Kelly had started unpacking the food as soon as they sat down. Ian ate a chicken leg and some watermelon to make Bonnie happy before he slipped away to talk to someone he knew. He’d really just picked a random girl on the other side of the field to talk to, an excuse to scope everybody out. No shifters in attendance so far, apparently.

“’Course.” Kelly swatted her older son. “Don’t you pick on her.”

“Yeah.” Serafina swallowed her mouthful and took another bite. “Don’t pick on me.”

“Don’t eat all the chicken,” Connor shot back.

“I’m not!”

“But you could.”

“So?” Serafina shrugged. “Bonnie says I’m a growing girl.”

“Oh, yeah?” Connor eyed Serafina’s short, delicate frame. She barely cleared five-two and weighed maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet. “When that’s supposed to kick in?”

Kelly smothered a smile. Bonnie pursed her lips at the suggestion Serafina was anything less than perfect. Serafina’s heart swelled at the fierce look Bonnie sent her: Don’t you listen to them. No one other than Ian had ever loved her so unconditionally.

The believers at the Church loved the White Goddess, not her. And Ian was blood-bonded to her and still saw her as the goddess it was his mission in life to protect. He didn’t exactly have a choice.

Bonnie glared at Abel for laughing with Mason, who shot Serafina a guilty look. She smiled back at him reassuringly. Serafina knew Connor was just teasing.

Abel ignored his wife, his eyes sparkling as they met Serafina’s. Abel knew she wasn’t offended, and she knew he took a weird sort of pride in how much she ate, like it was some kind of achievement.

“Bonnie says it goes to my hair.” Serafina tossed her head, sending her faded pink curls bouncing.

Everyone chuckled. Abel ran a hand over his receding salt-and-pepper buzz cut.

“Guess I better eat more then,” Abel said to more laughter.

“A lot more,” Serafina agreed around another mouthful of chicken.

“And last but not least...” Mason gestured to a door in front of them with a flourish. It looked like all the other doors in the school, wood with a little square window.

As promised, Mason gave her a full tour of the school. Bonnie described Jamestown as a small school at just under five hundred students but the building seemed huge to Serafina and just imagining the hallways crowded with kids was enough to spark her anxiety.

Mason threw open the door and flipped on the light, grinning at her expression as she followed him inside. “The art room.”

Serafina took in the cluttered, colourful space with widening eyes. Three long, paint-stained worktables sat in the centre of the room, which was lined with shelves stacked with art supplies. Artwork hung on every inch of available wall space.

“So what do you think?” Mason asked unnecessarily when Serafina didn’t speak. His smile grew as she turned to him, already knowing her answer.

“I think it’s awesome.” She gravitated to the folded easels stacked in one corner next to a bunch of blank canvasses propped against the wall. Serafina ran a reverent hand over the colourful tubes of paint on a nearby shelf.

“Why don’t you paint something?” Mason suggested.

“What?” Serafina whirled to look at him. “You’re joking,” she accused, even as a thrill ran through her at the thought of painting again.

“No, I’m not. Seriously, why not? Tryouts are going to last another three hours. We have time.”

“It’s not the time.” Serafina watched Mason manoeuvre one of the easels into position and reach for a blank canvas. “Don’t we have to ask for permission?” She didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with the art teacher.

“Miss Scarpelli is nice, she won’t care. This stuff is all for students anyway, right? And you’re a student. At least you will be.” Flashing her a smile, Mason picked up a jar full of paint brushes. “Which one do you want?”

Serafina’s heart raced as she chose a medium brush that didn’t look too squished or crusty. Mason put the rest of the brushes back on the shelf and took the empty jar to a small sink.

“Go ahead and choose your paint,” he said as he filled the jar with water.

Serafina hesitated, her heart thumping with excitement. If Mason thought it was okay, it must be, right? She wanted badly to trust him on this. Her fingers twitched around the handle of the brush, eager to spread colour and life onto the canvas.

The next two hours flew by. Mason made a few efforts to chat, then gave up as he realized Serafina was too absorbed in her work to answer. Vaguely she was aware of him leaving the room, then returning to sit cross-legged on the closet table and watch her in silence.

“You’re seriously the best artist I’ve ever seen,” Mason said when she finally stepped back from the easel.

Serafina blushed under his admiring gaze. “Thank you.”

“Is that your dad?” Mason asked, slipping off the table to stand in front of the canvas.

“No. I don’t think so,” she qualified, shaking her her head.

Serafina had painted the man from her wolf dreams. She still had them every couple of months or so. She knew now the man was a wolf shifter, like Ian. Serafina hadn’t seen his face again after that one dream when she was younger, but she could picture it as clearly in her mind as she could Ian’s.

Serafina had painted him the way he’d appeared in her last dream just a few weeks ago. In human form, wearing leather pants with heavy moccassin boots and a light sheepskin coat worn unbuttoned over a cotton shirt. He was sitting in a canvas folding chair in front of what looked like an army tent, smoking a small cigar. In her dream, he was talking to a woman and another man, dressed like he was, but Serafina had flipped the POV around so the painting was focused on him.

“You don’t think so?” Mason’s brow scrunched in confusion.

One shoulder rose in a dismissive half-shrug. “I never met my dad. I don’t even know who he was,” Serafina admitted, sending Mason a hesitant look from under her lashes. She’d been in general society and watched enough TV by now to understand the negative implications.

“Your mom never told you?” There was no judgment on Mason’s face, only curiosity.

Relaxing, Serafina shook her head. “Whenever I asked she’d just change the subject.”

“Wow. Sucks.” Mason made a sympathetic face as they began to clean up. “I feel sorry for him.”

Serafina turned from the sink to frown at him. “Why?”

Mason shrugged. “’Cause his daughter’s art’s going to be hanging in people’s houses and like, galleries someday, and he won’t even know it.”

Serafina turned back to the sink, blinking back the sudden tears threatening to spill down her face. “Thanks, Mason.” Her voice was a damp and scratchy.

“I mean it.” He watched her roll the clean brush in a paper towel and carry it back to the shelf with the clean jar. “And that’s not the only reason, either.”

Serafina gave him a wobbly smile. “He might not even know he has a daughter.”

As secretive as her mother had been with Serafina about details of her own life, it was easy to imagine her keeping Serafina’s father in the dark. Maybe she thought he wouldn’t have agreed to hand his newborn over to be raised by the Church. Elder Macklin praised her mother as a true believer who made the ultimate sacrifice, giving up her own child to bring harmony and unity to the world through fulfillment of the divine prophecies. But then why wasn’t she a member of the Church?

It didn’t make sense and with her mother dead and no plans to ever see Elder Mackin again, it probably never would. Serafina pushed the thoughts out of her head and focused on folding up the piece of cardboard she’d used as a palette without spilling any paint.

“Sucks even more for him.” Mason turned to stare at the painting again. “So who is he?”

Serafina came to stand beside him, smiling into the man’s sparkling green eyes and serious, familiar features. “Just someone I know.”

Thankfully, Mason didn’t pursue it. “How long does it take to dry?”

They looked at each other, realizing at the same moment they hadn’t accounted for drying time.

Serafina bit her lip. “Completely?” She cringed. “About two days.”

Mason’s eyes widened and they both burst out laughing.

“Okay, well I guess we’re leaving it here,” Mason said, his eyes still sparkling with laughter.

A final giggled escaped Serafina as she nodded. “I guess so.”

Mason’s Adam’s apple bobbe in his throat as he stepped closer. “I’ll write a note for Miss Scarpelli.”

His sandy hair looked soft and his cheekbones were lightly sunburned under the cute spray of freckles. His lips were pink and looked soft. She’d never noticed that before.

Mason was staring at her lips as well.

“Good idea,” Serafina whispered as he took another step forward. The room was quiet except for the hum of the lights and the faraway thuds and shouts from the field.

He was right in front of her now, barely a foot of space between them. Mason was a head taller and his shoulders were broad compared to hers. A funny shiver ran through Serafina as her eyes travelled up his chest to his throat, pausing on his lips before she met his gaze.

As if in slow motion—or maybe it was actually slow motion—Mason reached to grip her upper arms and closed the few inches between them.

He swallowed hard, his eyes holding hers. “I’m going to kiss you.”

What felt like a dozen butterflies came to life in Serafina’s stomach. She licked her lips, nervously, his eyes followed the motion. “Okay.”

His lips were as soft as they looked, firm but not hard as they pressed against hers. The kiss lasted only a few seconds and they were both smiling shyly when Mason pulled away.

“Sarah—” Mason flushed and cleared his throat. “My mom says I should wait to ask because I haven’t given you time to meet anyone else yet, but that’s kind of the reason I want to do it now.”

Serafina furrowed her brows. “What are you talking about?”

Mason’s flush grew deeper. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. “Will you be my girlfriend?”

It was the last thing she’d expected him to say. It hadn’t occured to her he’d want to be her boyfriend but now that it had, she liked the idea. She liked it a lot.

Serafina smiled. The awkward flush on his face receded as she nodded. “Okay.”

They left the art room holding hands and according to their reflection in the glass display case, wearing identical goofy grins. Serafina couldn’t wait to tell Bonnie.

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