22 of March, 2021 – 7:58 PM
It took an hour to drop off Helena and make it back home, if only in part because Val got lost. As soon as we returned, I tackled my homework assignments for English and World History before dinner was ready, then completed those for Algebra and Biology. My Media Studies assignment was the same as always: I had to choose an article or video segment and write an essay on the various journalism tools the reporter used. It was a weekly assignment, so I was scrolling through articles on a blog recommended by Mr. Fonseca when my bedroom door opened.
“Hey, I found my yearbook.”
“Ugh, can you knock first–” I began, only for Axel’s words to sink in. My eyes grew wide, and I spun around in my seat. “You found it? Really?”
“Yeah, but I don’t see what the point of all this was,” he grumbled. He held the hardcover volume out to me, and I took it greedily, immediately checking the table of contents for the junior’s section. “I still think you were hallucinating from being in the dark dimension for too long.”
“Uh-huh,” was my absentminded response. I was too engrossed in my task to focus on what he was saying. I need to know that I’m not crazy. That girl was real.
“–ri? Cari, are you listening to me?”
“Huh? Yeah.” I flipped to the section for AOA’s third years and was about to begin my rampant page-flipping when I froze.
At the Academy of Occult Arts, yearbooks work a little differently. Sure, students are grouped into sections based on their year and then alphabetized, but that’s as far as the similarities go. Since our student body is so small, each student gets their own page with a summary of their academic achievements and club activities. Their school portrait is on the top-left, their summary makes up the top-right, and the bottom half of the page is dedicated to photos taken of them at their extracurriculars. There are no front or back leaves of blank pages for signatures; instead, each student is encouraged to sign their own page in their friends’ books.
The very first student of the third-year section was a girl I had seen only once before. She had the complexion of a porcelain doll and hair so blonde it appeared almost white. Her eyes stared back at me, a captivating icy blue. Her lips, the shade of coconut shavings, were curved into a soft, sad smile.
Axel’s shout made me jump. Startled, I tore my eyes away from the yearbook and glared at him. “What? Why are you yelling at me?”
“Jett texted me about your incident with that human,” the vampire repeated in a low tone. “I’m assuming you don’t want Val and Clarence to know? Since I found out from a third party and not you or them, I mean.”
I half-shrugged, annoyed. “It’s whatever. Tell Jett to mind his own business.”
Axel frowned. “If he did that, then god knows what that piece of shit would’ve done to you.”
I said nothing, my eyes returning to the open book in my hands. Noticing my reticence, my adoptive brother sighed.
“Look, I get it. You don’t like mortals, and on top of that, some human asshole tried to assault you. It sounds like it was an all-around bad day. That’s no reason to take it out on Jett–especially when he’s been nothing but nice to you.”
I shifted in my chair. “I don’t want to owe him anything.”
“You owe him nothing,” Axel assured me. “And I’ll be around to make sure he doesn’t expect anything–and if he does, come straight to me and I’ll deal with it. Okay?”
I hadn’t planned on telling Axel anything regarding my incident with Dane, so this conversation was something that I had not expected. Still, I was grateful for it; my shoulders relaxed ever so slightly as a tiny weight was lifted, and Axel’s assurance made me breathe just a little bit easier. “Okay. Thanks, Ax.”
He smirked and sat on my bed. “That’s what big brothers are for. So tell me why you’re staring at Blodwen like a creep?”
My face was flushed with warmth. “She’s the girl I saw in the lobby–the one I was talking to when you and Val came running.”
Axel frowned. “Really? I didn’t hear her at all. Are you sure you didn’t see her in the hallways at some point and just hallucinate her talking to you?”
“I know what I saw,” I insisted, meeting his gaze dead-on.
He studied my expression for a short spell before running his fingers through his blond curls. “Alright, if you say you saw Blodwen, then you saw her. Weird that she would talk to you, though–she doesn’t talk to anyone except a few Haunters in her year.”
It was my turn to frown at the reminder that this girl was a fourth year. “How long has she been at AOA?”
“What do you mean? She’s a senior now, so three years I guess.”
“She said she’s always been there,” I revealed in a whisper. “And she looked all disheveled as if she had been attacked.”
Axel shook his head. “I don’t know what to tell you. It sounds like she was experiencing a flashback.”
“Yeah, it happens to ghosts and spirits and shades. Every now and then, they reenact a traumatic experience or even their own death. Something must have happened at school last night to trigger it.”
“But why was she still there?” I asked, more to myself than to Axel.
He grimaced. “Uh, not every Haunter has a place to go back to, kid. Vampires have their covens and zombies and mummies have their tombs, but spirits tend to just wander the dark dimension when they aren’t at work or school. They have no need for food, or bodily functions, or possessions. They just… Roam.”
My eyes landed on the page once more. Blodwen excelled at every subject she studied and had no extracurriculars outside of the Undead Support Group. The pictures along the bottom of the page depicted her sitting by herself or at USG meetings. She looked lonely in every one.
My fingers caressed the page just as a tear fell onto the ghost girl’s portrait with a plop. “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.”