26 of March, 2021 – Mid-Night Meal
We all grabbed our lunch and settled at our usual table; while Lilly and Helena normally sat with other freshmen, they joined me and my friends for this meal. Jett was already seated by the time we got there, and Max, Diego, and Oreste joined us shortly after.
“So, who else are you going to invite?” Gal asked me. Her tone was innocent enough, but I could see her hazel eyes dart swiftly over to Max and back to me.
Oh. I cleared my throat. “Hey, Max?”
“Hmm?” he asked, consumed with cutting his steak.
“Do you guys want to come over tomorrow night?” I half-shrugged. “We’re thinking of having a little get-together.”
Max’s knife paused as he swapped wide-eye glances with Oreste and Diego. “Uh, we have plans.”
“Oh, okay. Maybe next time.”
“What time?” Oreste asked, tapping a perfectly manicured finger on his chin.
“Uh…” I silently consulted with Lilly and Helena; Helena shrugged, so Lilly suggested, “Nine-ish Eastern time?”
“People should probably be out by three, though,” I pointed out. “Nanny’s usually back from his dates by four.”
“That’s great! We’ll be free after midnight,” Oreste said a little too loudly. “Party at the de Ardos!”
“Shhhh!” I shushed him loudly, glancing around at the neighboring tables. Some Enchanters were looking our way curiously. In a much softer tone, I added, “It’s just a small get-together with a few people. I don’t think my house could sustain the whole school.”
“It could if we gave our guests access to all four suites,” Axel opined in a sing-song voice.
Lilly, Helena, and I all gasped, though Lilly’s was for a different reason.
“We can’t!” I whisper-shouted.
“You shouldn’t–” Helena began, only for Lilly to bellow. “We should!”
“Okay, how about a compromise?” Axel smirked. “We open our suites–yours and mine–and the basement will be the main party room.”
“What’s all this ‘we’ nonsense?” I grumbled. “You work tomorrow, don’t you?”
“Yeah, but I’ll be off by ten.” Then he turned to Jett, who had been eating silently beside him. “You wanna come?”
Jett looked up from his tray, his amber eyes darting between the vampire and myself before settling on me. “Is that… Cool?”
I opened my mouth to speak when Axel frowned. “What the hell are you asking her for? I live there, too, and I’m inviting you.”
Taking the opportunity to chime in, I added, “It’s cool. You’re welcome over–it’s the least I can offer you after Monday.”
Max frowned. “What happened Monday–?”
“Nothing!” I insisted hurriedly. Jett locked eyes with me for a short spell as I pleaded silently with him.
My half-brother’s eyes swept over the participants of our table before turning to the werewolf to his left. “Jett?”
Jett offered him a half-shrug in consolation. “I’m sorry, man. If she won’t tell you, then I can’t, either.”
Hearing the Hunter say that was a relief. The anxiety I had felt around him since Monday faded, dissolved by a simple realization; I could trust Jett.
With a huff, Max returned his attention to his plate. “Yeah, alright. I guess I get it.”
“Thanks.” Jett’s smile was warm and relaxed as he looked back at me. “Mind if I bring a couple friends from the pack?”
“Yeah, that should be cool,” I shrugged. Finn said Jett was pretty distant with most of the pack, so he’ll probably just bring Finn and Whitney. Then I turned to Lilly. “Should we invite Gunnar and Camille?”
Lilly sighed. “Ugh, I guess so. And after I told him ‘no boys allowed’ for our movie night…”
“So will our movie night be a movie weekend?” asked Helena. “Or are we postponing the movie night?”
I cringed. “If we have another movie night too soon, then our parents will get suspicious. You two should just come over tonight and stay the weekend.”
“They grow up so fast,” Axel snickered. “Already throwing parties behind their parents’ backs. I’m so, so proud…”
“And what a good influence you are,” Sage mumbled, a smirk on their lips.
“Anyone else?” asked Gal, already excited.
Surprising me, Helena leaned in and whispered, “Are you going to invite Tea?”
My face was immediately flushed. “I-I–”
“You should,” Jett advised. His amber gaze met mine confidently. “At P.H. I think she’ll say yes if it comes from you.”
I glanced over my shoulder at the two tables behind us. Both were filled with Haunters, and seated at the furthest one was Teagan. She was clustered together with Mirae and Lucien, a pair of sophomore vampires, deep in conversation. Her red curls were pulled up in a bun that sat atop her head, and her sapphire eyes shone brilliantly as she spoke animatedly. Teagan was every bit the gorgeous girl I had met by chance within moments of my first night at AOA–would she accept the invitation of a plain Jane like me?
“O-Okay,” I conceded, inciting a series of whoops and encouraging remarks from my colleagues. I didn’t pay attention, though–I was too busy picking at my food and thinking about how the girl I wanted to invite wasn’t there.
26 of March, 2021 – Homeroom
When it comes to the de Ardo sisters, I’m an expert. I have been for twenty years. My arms still remember what it feels like to hold each of them; how Val was a loud, whiny, squirmy ball, while Cari was a quiet and alert bundle of contentment. I know both of those girls inside and out–their likes, their dislikes, their pet peeves, their guilty pleasures… I know what makes them tick, probably better than their own friends. I’ve lived long enough to watch them both flourish into beautiful, talented young women, and I’ll still be around to bury them when the time comes.
So when I say that Cari de Ardo never ceases to surprise me, rest assured that I’m not exaggerating.
Never in a million years would I have predicted her–the goody-two-shoes–to throw a party behind Clarence’s back. She tells him damn-near everything; I know she says that he’s like an uncle to her, but it’d be more accurate to say that he’s the father she never had. Cari and I were never as close as she was to Clarence–or as I am to Val. To this day, the heir to the De Ardo Coven is my best and oldest friend.
Even more shocking was the fact that Cari worked up the courage to ask her crush out to the party. I’m happy to report that Teagan said yes enthusiastically, so the guest list is filling up. Last I heard by the Homeroom bell, we had nine confirmed attendees, not including Cari, Lilly, Helena, or myself. If I were to include us and Jett’s possible guests, we’d have fifteen people slated to come over. That’s not bad for Cari’s first soiree!
Things were going well for us. Homeroom went off without a hitch–no one stopped by my desk and asked about the party, which meant it was lowkey, just like Cari wanted. Jett and I were waiting outside Val’s classroom just a minute after the bell rang, watching as their students poured out the door. Lenora and Abena shot me weird glances, but other than that I saw no red flags.
Then Cari and our friends were the last to exit, and my adoptive sister said, “Hey, Val wants to see you. She told the rest of us to go ahead.”
I nodded and smirked. “Alright, see you guys in a few minutes.”
I watched them walk away as the smirk faded from my face. We’re in deep shit.