22 of March, 2021 – Mid-Night Meal
The hour-long class flew by; Professor Penn didn’t assign any homework or projects, though she did task us with going over our curriculum for the upcoming quarter. By the time the bell rang to signify that class was over, I had a much better understanding of what she expected of us–and I had used the extra time to come up with a few questions.
My classmates were quick to grab their bags and scurry out of the room, desperate to make it to the courtyard where lunch was served. Like it really matters, I intoned. The food’ll still be there–I heard they always make more than enough.
I slid my arms into my backpack purse and idled by my desk as I waited for my neighbors to leave. I didn’t exactly want an audience–but I quickly learned that life doesn’t give you what you want.
I turned to the right to address the owner of the kind voice, only to freeze up. Max?! “Uh, yeah. Just needed to ask Professor Penn something.”
He smiled politely. “Oh, okay. I’ll wait for you by the door.”
“Actually, I–” I began, only for Max to walk over to the now open door and lean against its frame. I couldn’t help the annoyance I felt. Dude, seriously? Is he one of those assholes who just won’t take no for an answer? He didn’t even ask!
I pushed aside my irritation and approached our instructor’s desk. “Professor?”
“Yes, Cari?” she asked, a knowing twinkle in her eye as she smiled my way.
I swallowed my nerves. “I was wondering if I could interview you for a project on important events in the history of magickal beings.”
Professor Penn’s arched eyebrows rose and fell slowly. “You have Shararah for A-1, right?”
“Yeah, I’m familiar with her sophomore curriculum. I shouldn’t be surprised that my class isn’t the only one you’re taking that’s above your grade level.” She threw me a smirk. “I don’t believe interviews are a requirement for the paper.”
“They’re not,” I acquiesced. “But when I tried to do some research on your coven, I only found one interview and limited information–”
“So you were hoping that, since it’s for a school assignment, I’d answer some questions?” she finished my thought. When my mouth fell open but no words came out, she chuckled, “Don’t worry, my defiance isn’t a no. I just live to be difficult.”
“I swear, I’m buying you a t-shirt with that stupid slogan of yours printed on it.”
I jumped at the arrival of another familiar voice. She nodded to Max as she entered; he straightened his posture and moved out of her way, greeting her respectfully.
Penn gasped. “Vallie! I was wondering when you’d visit me.”
Val tucked a couple short curls behind her left ear. “I might have arrived late this morning… Sorry, professor.”
Professor Penn frowned and stood. “I’m not your professor anymore, Valoree–and I’m only, like, seven years your senior. You can call me Natasha, or Nat, or Penn.”
“I’ll remember that,” my sibling shot her former professor a smile before her dark eyes flitted over to me. I lowered my gaze. “I hope class went well today.”
“Speaking of which, Cari–” My head shot back up as Professor Penn addressed me. “Your paper is due next Monday, right? Your sister and I will figure out a time later this week when the three of us can get together for the interview.”
I blinked. “Oh. Um, I thought maybe I could stop by sometime this week during Middy or third period.”
“That wouldn’t be fair to Penn, Cari,” Val chastised me. “Professors need to eat, too. I’ll talk to Clarence so we can figure out something.”
I considered debating my point with them when I caught movement by the door; Max locked eyes with me, shook his head, and made a dismissive gesture by swiping his right hand before his neck. He’s telling me to go along with what they want. It definitely wouldn’t look good if Val and I got into it here… And the sooner I get out of here, the sooner I can figure out what Max’s deal is.
“Yeah, you’re right,” I offered Val and Professor Penn a smile. “Sorry professor, I wasn’t thinking about that. I’m sure whatever day and time you guys decide on will be perfect. I should go meet up with my friends, though–”
“Yeah, Gal has been waiting in the hallway,” a frown tugged on the professor’s lips. “Make sure she knows that she’ll have to stay home from mortal school today. Leaving the healing ward so soon after being compelled will have lasting effects on her health.”
How did she know that Gal was waiting? I wondered. “I’ll tell her. Thank you again for accepting my interview–I’ll see you then!”
Then I hurried to the door; Max held it open, his eyes averted as I passed. I spied Galiana, Sage, and Axel waiting by the exit; the former pair exchanged concerned glances when they saw Max and I headed toward them. Axel seemed less bothered by my escort; he returned his attention to his smartphone, presumably scrolling through Twixie.
We were just a meter away from them when I heard Professor Penn’s classroom door finally shut, and I immediately advanced on Max.
“Care to tell me why you appointed yourself as my escort tonight?” I demanded, sounding a little too put off.
If Max minded, he sure never let it show. “Dad asked me to keep you safe.”
I tripped over nothing, but recovered quickly as I halted our procession. We were just a couple feet away from my friends and the exit, so I know for a fact that they heard what Max had said. Max paused by my side and confidently met my appalled expression. He was over half a foot taller than me, and I was struck with a sudden realization that this person was as much my sibling as Val was.
They’re both my half-siblings. They’re both older than me… I scowled up at him. They’re towering figures who would prefer to keep me in their shadows.
“Fine,” I conceded. Based on what he’s shown me, I won’t be able to shake him, anyway. I gestured to my friends. “I assume you all know each other.”
Sage nodded; Galiana tucked a stray strand of cinnamon curls behind one of her ears, avoiding Max’s eyes. Axel stepped forward, offering his hand to my brother.
“We haven’t officially met, but I’ve seen you at football practice. I’m Axel.”
Max accepted the handshake, firmly gripping the vampire’s hand as he smirked, “Oh, I know. You and Gal are all Sage talks about.”
My guides collectively blushed. Sage cleared their throat and opened the exit door.
“I’m starved. Let’s go eat.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Axel snickered. “So, what does Sage say about me–?”
I walked ahead of the two and linked arms with Sage and Galiana. “Oh! Gal, I almost forgot. Professor Penn told me to tell you that you’ll need to stay home from mortal school today to fully recover from compulsion since you left the healing ward early.”
The sophomore frowned. “How the hell did she know that I left the ward early?”
“I don’t know, I never mentioned it to her.” I thought back on my bizarre conversation with the professor. “Actually, she seemed to know that you were waiting for me in the hallway, too.”
“It doesn’t surprise me that you’d be confused when they’re only known for their pathokinesis,” Max spoke up from behind us. “Penn’s not just an empath; they have a sixth sense, an intuition that kicks in when they take an interest in the people or places around them.”
Sage nodded thoughtfully. “That makes sense. Cari, Gal, and everyone involved in this morning’s incident are bound to have caught the attention of every Enchanter on campus.”
“If only it were just the Enchanters,” I heard Max grumble under his breath. I was about to ask him what he meant when Axel said:
“By the way, I heard you asked Arion not to write about this morning. I appreciate that–he wouldn’t listen to me.”
“I wouldn’t thank me yet,” Max groaned. “He sounded pretty adamant on writing about it. You know the Gossip King–he lives for drama.”
We were nearly to the courtyard when I heard my brothers say this. “Wait–Arion? As in Arion Floros?”
“She reads his articles more than any other on the Citizen,” Axel muttered.
I spun around, cheeks burning. “I-I read all the articles as soon as they’re published!”
“Is that supposed to be better?” he scoffed.
“They’re certainly the most entertaining,” Galiana chimed in. “But you’re missing the point, Cari. When Arion is eager to tell a story, he’ll do whatever he can to get the scoop. He waited almost an entire year before discussing the incident between Aurilla and Virgil. I’m surprised he didn’t visit me in the healing ward, or wait outside any of your classes. It’s not exactly like our schedules are totally private–any student can claim good intentions and walk into A wing to request your schedule.”
“Actually, he can’t wait outside Cari’s classes,” Sage revealed. “Fiona made a rule that bars Arion from writing about freshmen in his gossip column. I heard his article about the prospective freshmen barely skated by.”
I walked quietly between them, weighing my options. Arion Floros was indeed a tenacious reporter who would go to any lengths for a story. Would it really be best to avoid him? He doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who responds kindly to cruder methods, such as intimidation or bribery. If none of those options is right for the situation…
“Gal, can you switch with me?”
“Huh?” I had already released both of my guides and swapped positions with Galiana before she even responded. “What are you–?”
“Sage, can you take her other arm?” They nodded and took her right arm in their left, curious as to what I was planning.
“Ax, go walk next to Sage. We need to look as normal as possible,” I told him.
“What the hell are you going on about…?” he grumbled. He begrudgingly followed my instructions.
“I suppose you want me to either hang back or head out first,” Max offered.
I shook my head. “People are already talking about us as if they know the truth. I don’t think we can hide it while we’re both attending here, so you should be next to me.”
Massimo Quercini grinned at my analysis. “My sister, the schemer. Hope your plan isn’t to make waves, cuz Dad might have a problem with that.”
“Well, he’s not gonna love this,” I grimaced and walked on, leading my personal procession. “We’re going to attract the entire courtyard’s attention–and with more pressure on his potential story, Arion’s going to approach us in hopes of scoring a quote. Little does he know that we’re going to give him so much more than that.”