22 of March, 2021 – 7:03 AM
“Why do I have to go to mortal school again?” I whined.
“Because child protective services will take you away if you don’t,” Nanny pointed out.
It was the morning following my first night at the academy, and I was up at an abysmal hour for my “day shift” at Sacred Heart Private Institute. With a name like that, you’d think I’d be attending some cool, contemporary high school–nope. Not in the least. Sacred Heart was a Catholic school, complete with the strict dress code and stricter “moral” code.
In retrospect, the uniforms weren’t unlike those at AOA; the only noticeable difference is that Sacred Heart required sweater vests over their collared shirts instead of blazers. And their skirts are knee-length at the shortest. And they limit the shoes and accessories we can wear…
“Why can’t I just be ‘homeschooled’?” I asked, forming air quotes with my fingers.
“Because being homeschooled doesn’t look as good on uni applications,” sighed Nanny. He turned from the stovetop back to the island where I sat on a barstool and placed a plate topped with my favorite breakfast: scrambled eggs with bits of ham, tomato, and onion, a couple strips of bacon, and a plain bagel with blueberry cream cheese. “Try to hurry, love. It’s a fifteen minute commute and traffic at this hour is hell.”
I groaned and dug into my breakfast just as Val trudged into the kitchen.
“Why the hell am I awake at this ungodly hour?” my sister aimed her question at my caretaker. “I don’t have a day job.”
“Your mother would like you to consider getting one while you’re staying with us,” he expressed. He placed a plate of scrambled eggs with buttered toast beside me and gestured for Val to join me. “Sit and eat. It’d be nice to see your sister off, don’t you think?”
Val grumbled, took the seat adjacent to mine, and picked at her eggs. My eyes travelled between my two guardians, curious. Is Nanny mad at Val? I thought he’d be happy to have her home.
“Are you excited?” My sister’s voice broke through my pensive bubble. “This’ll be your first day back after spring break, right? First days are always scary and exciting, no matter the kind of school you’re going to.”
I shrugged. “I doubt anything will beat my first night at AOA. At least I’ll have Helena and Lilly.”
“You know, there’s nothing wrong with making some new mortal friends–” she began, but I cut her off.
“Do you not like Lilly and Helena?”
“Of course I do!” Val insisted. “And I’m not just saying that as their professor. Lilly is the extrovert you and Helena need to break out of your shells, and Helena is humble enough to keep you both in check.”
“That’s a fair assessment,” Nanny pointed out, sounding impressed. “You gathered that from just a short amount of time?”
“What can I say, Clarence, I’m good at what I do,” Val winked. “Can I have some coffee with lots of sugar? I’m exhausted.”
“I told you not to stay up late working on your lesson plan. If you spend the first week on icebreakers, then you can use your free periods to come up with your curriculum.”
“I’m an eager beaver,” she yawned. She accepted the mug of coffee gladly, as well as the bowl of sugar cubes, and she immediately began pouring the sweet white cubes into her hot beverage. “Speaking of exhaustion, Cari, why do you look like how I feel?”
I paused mid bite of my bagel and met my sister’s inquiring gaze. Then I chewed slowly and swallowed hard, clearing my throat. “I had a lot to think about.”
It wasn’t exactly a lie–I had spent the entire night thinking about that weird encounter I had with that girl. I even tried to ask Axel if he would lend me his freshman yearbook so I could browse through the upperclassmen, but instead my adoptive brother just frowned and shooed me out of his suite.
“Where’s Axel?” I asked absentmindedly, though I had already suspected that he was asleep in his room with the curtains drawn. While sunlight wasn’t actually lethal for members of the undead community, it did cause them severe discomfort the brighter it was.
“Asleep, I bet,” Val sighed. “Lucky bastard.”
“Actually, he’s on his way to a job interview at that petrol station a few blocks away,” Nanny clarified. “You know, Elysium?”
My jaw dropped, as did my bagel–and I could only imagine that Val’s jaw and toast did the same, because I heard the clink of her bread hitting her plate right after mine.
Nanny chortled softly over our reactions. “Relax, girls, it’s not the end of the world. Your mother simply insisted that he find a way to pay his own way.”
“Why?” I demanded. “Axel does everything that she asks. Why can’t she just leave him alone?”
“You know, this might actually be good for him,” Val reasoned as she picked up her toast. “He could stand to be around mortals for a change. You both could.”
“You say that like I haven’t been attending mortal schools for the past decade!” I challenged her. “I don’t want to be around mortals. I don’t want to hide who I really am. I just want to live my life without worrying that something I say or do might start the next witch hunt.”
Val reached over and squeezed my shoulder amicably. “Clarence and I know a bit about not wanting to live a lie, Cari. We both spent our teenage years confused, just like you.”
“Yeah, except there are mortals who are not only accepting of transgender people, but who have allied themselves with you,” I clapped back. “If I’m outed as a witch–at a private Catholic school–they could march onto our front lawn with torches and pitchforks.”
“Seriously? No one just carries around torches and pitchforks anymore,” Val argued. “You’ll do fine. You have ten years of practice–now you just need to handle four more.”
I wasn’t sure what else to say, so I fell silent and ate the last of my eggs. My normally delicious, favorite breakfast tasted cold and bland in the wake of our conversation. Why do I need to deal with mortals? I’d much rather live in the dark dimension after I come of age.