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22 of March, 2021 – First Planning Period
“Sai che non cambierà nulla.” ‘You know nothing will change.’
Professor Cromwell had just completed the roll call when Oreste had tapped me on the shoulder and whispered his cryptic warning. I spun around in my seat to face the senior. “Di cosa stai parlando?” ‘What are you talking about?’
“Chiedendogli di non scrivere di lei,” he clarified. “Nulla cambierà–Il futuro è fisso.”
‘Asking him not to write about her. Nothing changes–the future is fixed.’
My eyebrows furrowed above the bridge of my nose. “Seriously? He’s going to ignore my request and write it anyway?”
Oreste nodded. “Una delle persone coinvolte gli darà volentieri la loro versione della storia.” ‘One of the people involved will gladly give him their side of the story.’
I’m sure the shock was evident on my face–I was never good at hiding my emotions. “Chi è?”
My friend shook his head. “I can’t see that.”
I turned back around slowly, weighing my options. Arion was hungry for gossip and a good mystery, but he would never write a story unless he heard from at least one of the people involved.
Jude won’t give him that–everyone sees him as the bad guy in this incident, and it sure as hell looks that way no matter how you spin it, I rationalized. And Cari… Well, I may not know too much about her, but if I know anything about the de Ardos, it’s that they’re very private. Even the other families in their coven are expected to push away outsiders. That means that not only is Cari out, but so is Axel.
I sighed and rubbed my temples. Think, Max. Jude won’t do anything to further ruin his reputation. Cari and Axel will keep to themselves. I couldn’t get any intel on the new vamp that was with them, but Haunters tend to avoid controversy–though Jude has always been the exception. Sage is my buddy–they would never out Cari without consulting me, since they probably already guessed that she’s my sister since they’re a genius. So that leaves–
My head shot up, and my eyes found the round analog clock hanging above the whiteboard. There were only twenty minutes left before homeroom would end. I’ll have to make the most of it.
I raised my hand and locked eyes with the professor. He’s my tutor–he should understand.
“Mister Quercini, you have a question?” The instructor asked, raising one of his bushy orange brows at my gesture.
“Yes, professor. Is it alright if I approach?”
“It is,” he nodded, his spruce eyes scrutinizing me as I stood from my seat at the rear of the class, threw my backpack over my shoulder, and walked briskly up to his desk.
“You seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere,” he murmured once I was within earshot. “Something to do with this morning?”
A lump had formed in my throat as I hesitated. Normally I would trust Cromwell with this, but he’s a member of the Hollingsworth Coven–and if my hunch about Jude working with Lenora is right, then I need to be careful about the information I give him. I swallowed my concerns and nodded. “Yes, sir. I was hoping you would let me visit the healing ward. The girl injured is an Enchanter and an underclassman, and I’m worried about leaving her alone with her attacker.”
His eyebrows rose again. “That’s noble of you, but I think Dr. Shararah and the other healers are more than capable of keeping the two separate. Besides, you should be less concerned about Miss Franco’s safety and more concerned with Mister Jude’s.”
When a wrinkle formed above the bridge of my nose, the professor chuckled. “The witches of the Serafim Coven are nothing if not fierce. Don’t let their affinity with plants fool you into believing they are a gentle group.”
I thought back on the members of the Serafim Coven that I had encountered over the last few years: Gerardo, Michele, and Sofia were all rather serious, and their intellects were unrivaled among their peers from other covens. Sage had shared some stories of Galiana here and there, so I knew she was also smart–but every time I had seen her in a corridor or at Middy, the witch was always smiling. Smiling at her friends, at her phone, at a book…
Then I recalled how she looked after Jude had compelled her; confused, disheveled, appalled. She didn’t look angry… But she should have. She had every right to be.
My eyes refocused on Cromwell. “Sir?”
His blue eyes darted down to the hand holding my backpack strap and back up to my face. “You alright?”
Without realizing, I had balled my hand into a fist, squeezing the padded strap so hard that my fingers were turning white. I loosened my grip and cleared my throat.
“Please let me see her, professor.”
It only took me about five minutes to reach B wing. The doors to the separate rooms of the healing ward were wide open as always, allowing students to come and go freely. I peeked through the first couple and found them either empty or occupied by other students. I barely had to glance into the third to know it was the right room–Jude nearly collided with me as he stormed out, his expression seething.
“What the–?” he began, only for his expression to sour at my arrival. “Oh, it’s you. Peacemaker.”
I glowered at him. “I’m just here to check on Galiana.”
“Of course you are,” he practically hissed. The vampire stepped around me and backed further down the hallway. “Thought maybe you’d want to see how your teammate is doing–but no! You’re here for some witch you don’t even know. Typical Enchanters.”
I scowled and squared my shoulders. “Hey, what classification were the healers who healed you again? Were they Haunters, or…?”
Jude scoffed and spun around. “Piss off, Max. See you at practice.”
How has Zahra not kicked him off the team already? I sighed and entered the room, nodding to the healer that was on his way out. Oh, the healer’s leaving? It’s supposed to take a couple of hours for a witch to recover from compulsion. How’re they already done–?
I passed the first bed and rounded the curtain dividing it from the second. Galiana had kicked off her black boots and curled up at the head of the bed with a book. Her feet were tucked beneath her, covered in sheer white pantyhose. She had removed her school blazer and draped it over the back of an adjacent accent chair which her small backpack was occupying. She was leaning on her right side against the propped up pillows and wall, so she was facing the direction I came from.
“I told you not to come check on me, Gerardo,” she grumbled without so much as a glance. “I’ll be fine. Get back to homeroom.”
I cocked an eyebrow. Sage made her sound like she was too timid to stand her ground against someone like Gerardo, but maybe they were wrong. “I hope that only applies to Gerardo.”
Galiana’s head shot up so fast that I was worried she might hurt herself. Her hazel eyes were wide as they landed on me, and her jaw dropped as she gasped. “Oh! N-No!”
A smile crept on my lips, and I took a step back. “ ‘Oh no’? If you really don’t want me here–”
“No!” she protested, throwing her hand in a halting gesture. “I-I mean, no, that isn’t what I meant, and yes, the rule only applies to him–”
Her hands had been swirling and flailing in an animated fashion when her book slipped from her fingers and fell to the floor. “Ah, crap!”
“I got it,” I said, chuckling as I moved closer to the bed and knelt down, plucking the novel off the ground. “In Italy, we learn from a young age how to talk with our hands without dropping things.”
Galiana giggled. “Let’s hope it’s a part of the lesson plan for beginner Italian.”
I stood and handed her the paperback, my eyes taking in the vibrant artwork on the cover. “ ‘Stars Of Yesterday’? What’s that about?”
“It’s about a girl who’s best friends with this guy, and they spend all their time together–but then they’re separated because they have to learn how to rule their home worlds,” the sophomore explained. She accepted the book with a soft “thanks” before finding her place and marking it with a plastic bookmark. “But while they’re separated, both friends grow and learn a lot about themselves and who they want to be. They both find love and form bonds with people they never expected to meet, and they even discover some things along the way about their parents.”
My eyes darted back down to the cover. The illustration depicted a young woman clad in black robes with sapphire blue accents, her expression proud and intimidating as she wielded a black staff like a weapon. At the head of the staff was a single rose encased in a crystal ball. “That sounds like a nice story, but I’ve played enough video games to know when there’s a catch.”
Galiana grinned. “Yeah, there is. The two friends meet up with each other and their parents after all those years apart, and their parents reveal that the friends are betrothed to one another.”
“Ah, so it’s a drama with romantic elements?” I concluded.
“There’s also action scenes and plenty of hijinks between the protagonists and their friends,” she added in a matter-of-factly tone. “But ultimately, yes. Drama and romance–I’m a sucker for both.”
An awkward silence fell over us. I was still standing by her side, shifting my weight.
“So, I take it you’re feeling better?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she attested as she adjusted her rose-gold spectacles. “We heal quickly in my coven. I think I’ll be ready to go to class next period.”
A frown pulled on my lips. “That’s kind of soon. Maybe you should rest more.”
Galiana began to say something–I expected she would protest–before hesitating, her eyes lowered.
“Um… Why are you here?”
I was about to give her the same excuse I gave Cromwell when her expression left the words caught in my throat. Her gaze was averted, and her hands were on her lap, fumbling with her book.
She’s smart. Lying to her isn’t the best move, I convinced myself. “I came to ask you not to talk about the incident this morning with anyone in the Journalism Club–especially Arion. He wants to write about it and focus on Jude.”
Her eyes locked onto mine; they were a mixture of moss and olive green, with streaks of gingerbread, and they exuded an intenseness I hadn’t seen in any other from her coven. My face grew warm, and I stared off to the side. It’s like she’s switched gears.
“Max?” It was the first time I had heard her speak my name. Her voice was warm and smooth, delivered with a patient tone. A fluttering sensation spread across my chest–and I wasn’t particularly fond of it.
“Yeah?” I replied, amazed by how rude the word sounded. What the hell is wrong with me?
She grimaced. “It’s okay. You’re here for Cari, right? To make sure I don’t talk about what happened?”
I was too stunned by her deduction to deny it, so she continued. “I won’t say anything. I’m her guide–I’m here to help her settle in, not ruin or use her. I know my telling you this probably doesn’t mean anything, since you can’t exactly tell if I’m being honest, but I can’t really control how you think or what you’ll believe.”
I recovered from my surprise by reaching back and rubbing the back of my neck. “Sage was right–you’re really smart.”
Then I threw her a nod and a smile and spun around, ready to leave.
“I think you should talk to her.”
Her words stopped me in my tracks. “What?”
“Cari,” she clarified. “She… She told me about you two. She’s very smart, and treats every interaction like a game of chess–but she’s still just a kid. And I think that kid needs an older sibling right about now.”
My teeth ground together behind my pursed lips. “She has two brothers already–she has no need for me.”
Galiana let out a sigh. “You can never have too many people who care about you.”
I scoffed. “Says the girl who pushes her witch head away.”
There was a pause. “What?”
“You’re a hypocrite.” I turned to face her; her earthy eyes were wide in shock. “You’re going to preach about family and letting people know you care, but your own leader shows his concern for you and you push him away? He’s a pompous jerk, but any idiot with eyes could see that he treats you differently than he does any other witch.”
Then I stepped around the curtain and walked right into Gerardo.