Three Minutes After The Bell
“So,” Val began, her tone light. “Is there anything I should know about?”
I shrugged my shoulders and remained silent, hoping to feign ignorance. Please don’t invoke the oath, please don’t invoke the oath–
Val sighed. “C’mon, Ax. I’m not an idiot. Cari and her friends avoided making eye contact with me for the entire homeroom period. Don’t make me invoke our blood oath. Talk, now.”
As she spoke the last word, I could feel the power of our bond tightening around my chest. It felt as if I were being bound by thick iron chains, each odd oval pressing deep into my skin. My lips parted as I gasped for air.
“C-C-C-C-Cari’s throwing a party tomorrow night while you and Clarence aren’t home!” I spat out.
The hold of the bond loosened somewhat, allowing me to catch my breath. I glared at Val–she knew how much I hated that blood oath. Since Val couldn’t keep her mouth shut, it was always me being restrained and forced to spew secrets. It sounded like a good idea at the time…
Val’s face was a blank mask as the truth washed over her. She reclaimed her seat, slumping into the chair. “Cari’s… Throwing a secret party?”
Then–for the first time in her life–Val surprised me by breaking out into giggles. “Oh, my goddess! She’s turning out to be wild, isn’t she? Getting into fights, throwing parties–the first week of school hasn’t even ended!”
I cleared my throat; I could still feel those invisible chains shaking against my chest, warning me. “You’re not mad?”
“Mad?” She scoffed, standing once more and collecting her things. “On the contrary, I think this will be very good for Cari. She needs to be genuine with people and not treat every interaction like a chess game.”
“You won’t tell Cari that I told you, right?” I pleaded. “She’ll cancel if she knows I snitched.”
Val pouted her lips and led me to the door. “I really wish she’d talk to me about this kind of stuff… But I get it. I’ll do what I can to keep Clarence out later.”
“Thanks,” I sighed, relieved. I wish these stupid chains would disappear again. “We should be fine, though. We only have thirteen guests including Helena and Lilly; the four of us can have both of our suites and the attic clean before Clarence gets back.”
We were already entering “the intersection” when Val giggled. “I appreciate that you guys are keeping the party confined to the upper levels. It’s not only considerate to Clarence and me, but it also lowers the possibility of the front door being opened.”
“That was Cari’s idea to keep it confined, and Lilly’s to have everyone come through the portal,” I smirked. “And Clara thinks I’m the bad influence around here.”
“Even so, I’m glad Cari has Lilly to bring her out of her shell.” Then Val added. “Oh, and I’ll grab a bunch of snacks and drinks tomorrow. If you guys need anything, you’ll find it in my kitchen.”
I coughed and rubbed my chest. “Okay, thanks.”
My friend studied me carefully before asking, “Axel, is there something else that I should know?”
That’s when it hit me–the reason the binds refused to go away. She doesn’t know about what happened on Monday! I opened my mouth to speak when I recalled how the conversation at Middy took a tense turn when the incident was mentioned in passing. “Please don’t make me tell you, Valoree. Cari doesn’t want anyone to know–I wasn’t even supposed to find out.”
We were in the main lobby when the subject was broached; neither one of us slowed our pace, and Val threw me a nervous glance.
“It must be pretty bad if you’re using my first name. Is Cari okay? Did something happen?”
Maybe I can work around the oath. “She’s fine. She wasn’t physically hurt or anything, just pissed off. A kid at Sacred Heart came onto her, and when she refused, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Jett broke it up before anything could happen.”
“Oh.” Val pondered as we began our descent to the dungeons. We were halfway down the steps when she spoke again. “Well, at least she’s okay. Is Jett going to this party?”
“Yeah, we invited him.”
“Good. He sounds like a nice friend for her to have.” Then she asked in a deceptively innocent tone, “Who else was invited?”
“Sage and Gal, Gunnar and Camille, we told Jett he could bring a couple friends from his pack… Oh, and Cari invited a cute vampire girl that she’s had her eye on.”
Val squealed in delight, clapping her hands together. “Oh, goddess! I knew the rumors were true! You need to snap a picture of them together tomorrow. I have to see it–”
“You want me to take pictures of Cari and her crush behind her back?” I cautioned. “That won’t turn out well.”
She pouted. “But, but I can’t just show up at the party! I’m not supposed to know about it!”
“Then why don’t you just chill out and wait for Cari to move forward with the girl at her own pace? She’ll bring whoever she dates around when she’s ready.”
“Ugh, fine.” Val shot me a playful glance. “You’re such a nice big brother, being protective of her.”
The binds were nearly entirely gone, so I was feeling more like myself. “Yeah, well, don’t say a word to anyone. My reputation would be ruined.”
We continued joking as we neared the portals, and I was so distracted that I had all but forgotten to mention that Cari had invited Max Quercini to the party. Oops.
Hell, I was so consumed that I hadn’t even noticed that Cari had stayed behind and waited at the portals, speaking to someone that I couldn’t hear.
An Hour Later
It was nearly two in the morning, and I hadn’t slept a wink.
My brain was overactive, replaying the events of the night in random snippets. The conversation I had with Blodwen, all the party planning I did with Lilly and Helena, inviting Teagan and our friends, Aerwyna’s weird palm reading…
The disappointed looks on the faces of the other witches in our Botany class as Elyse Hawkins called me a dangerous crossbreed.
I sat up with a huff. This is ridiculous. At this rate, I won’t get any sleep…
Tossing my covers to one side, I threw my legs over the side of the bed, slipped them into my fuzzy house slippers, and made my way out of the main bedroom of my suite. My suite, like Axel’s and Val’s, was a three-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment–and like my adoptive brother, I resided on the second floor. He and I shared a balcony, so I made a beeline to the coat rack, grabbed my spare hoodie, and was out the door in a matter of minutes.
As predicted, there sat Axel, vaping and scrolling through his phone. “You should be asleep,” he grumbled without so much as a glance in my direction.
I sat in the wooden Adirondack chair in my corner, my eyes studying the night sky. We were too close to the city; the light pollution was horrible, leaving me unable to properly study the stars and constellations. How long has it been since I took Star for a spin?
“If I flew off for a bit, would you tell Nanny?” I asked foolishly. I already knew the answer.
“You know I wouldn’t,” he vowed. “Unless you weren’t back in a reasonable amount of time. Why? You going out?”
“I’m thinking about it.”
“Think again,” Axel warned me. “You have to be up for mortal school in five hours. You won’t have time to stargaze and sleep.”
I shrugged. “I’m not thinking about stargazing. I just want to fly.”
“This have anything to do with Max telling you not to try out for the High Flyers Club?”
My head dropped into my hands. “I completely forgot about that. The balls on that guy…”
Axel frowned. “If it’s not about that, then what?”
My thoughts flew back to Botany class and Elyse’s words, and I picked my head up and dropped my hands. “I-It’s nothing.”
Then I surprised us both by standing and making for the door. “I’m going to get Star. Text me if anything comes up.”
“Okay,” he conceded, returning his attention to his phone. “Text if you need me.”