27 of March 2021 – 8:53 PM
The rest of the night flew by. I caught Gunnar and Camille on their way out of Middy and gave them the same spiel as the other witch heads. As predicted, Gunnar accepted my proposal and gave Lilly the go-ahead to teach me some shadow magick. Camille, on the other hand, outright refused me. When I simply nodded, thanked her for hearing me out, reminded her of my party that night and began to walk away, she stopped me with a frown.
“I expected more pushback from a de Ardo.”
I stifled a sigh–I was seriously getting tired of all these witches treating me as if I were some snobby child. “If you think I can’t take ‘no’ for an answer, then you really don’t know me at all.”
After that, Lilly and Helena wanted to check out some more clubs. I was debating joining them when Jett and Zander approached me with a proposal of their own: they would become my personal trainers every PH and in my spare time on the weekends. Zander also floated around the idea of teaching me hand-to-hand combat, but Max nearly blew a gasket, so I dragged the werewolf brothers off to the locker rooms.
After the three of us changed into our academy athletic attire, Zander and Jett had me run a lap around the track, easily keeping up with me as I struggled on shaky legs. Then they ran me through a series of fitness drills as a way to gauge my fitness level. Eventually, Whitney and other members of the Salem and Denver packs joined us, watching from the nearby bleachers and cheering me on. It was more than a little embarrassing, but also very endearing; I wasn’t accustomed to having so many people root for me. Granted, I knew they were mostly there to give Zander tips on how to train me.
It wasn’t until we were about an hour or so into this that it hit me. Aside from Zan, Whit, and Finn, none of the Salem wolves really acknowledge Jett. I straightened from my crouched over position, still catching my breath. “Hey… I was–was wondering something.”
Zan and Jett, who were discussing even more potential exercises with Storm, glanced over in time with the enby wolf. “ ‘Sup?” asked Jett.
“How–how come your pack doesn’t like you?” I finally managed to get out. My breathing was returning to normal as I addressed Jett. “You and Zan are both the sons of alphas, right? Doesn’t that make you both alphas?”
Jett’s jaw tensed. “Oh, well–”
“It does,” Zander and Storm confirmed in unison. Then Zan added, “But I got wolf blood on both sides–Jett’s half-human on top of being a late-bloomer, so he wasn’t raised with the pack. We’re social creatures, so having a new alpha just show up randomly throws a wrench in the way the pack thought things would go. They’ve relegated him to an omega until he and I hash it out.”
“There’s nothing to hash out!” Jett snapped, his expression as irritated as his tone. “I don’t want to be alpha, Zan. You can have it.”
Zander’s brow furrowed. “But–”
“I don’t want the position,” he insisted, his voice lowered. The step brothers had locked eyes, having another one of those silent conversations. “There’s only one thing I want, and you know what that is. I don’t need to be on top to get it.”
Zander made a gesture that was reminiscent of a half shrug and a nod thrown together. “Maybe, but being alpha might help, you know?”
I cocked an eyebrow, my eyes darting between the two of them. What are they talking about? What’s Jett after?
Sensing the tense atmosphere, Storm decided to cut in. “Zan, I thought your pack was trying to get rid of the omega label?”
“We are. It’s taking the rest of ‘em a bit to follow along, but the idea is that Jett’s just supposed to be a regular member.”
“Okay, cool. Got any tips for me? I want to talk to my brother about us getting rid of it, too…”
Seeing that I had had an adequate break, Jett waved for me to follow him back onto the field for another exercise. As I followed close behind, I found myself asking, “That thing you want–what is it?”
The werewolf squared his shoulders and slowed his pace, allowing me to catch up and walk beside him. “I’ll tell you some other time.”
We spent the remainder of the hour alternating between even more exercises before we heard the bell ring throughout campus. The weekends ran an hour shorter than our weekday classes, allowing us to check on other clubs in that final hour if necessary. I changed out of my gym clothes and walked back to the portals with the wolves. Cinnamon, Finn, Jett, and a few others were openly excited for my upcoming party, while Zander and Storm simply nodded in my direction like the cool leaders they were. I found my friends waiting at the mirrors; Sage, Max, and my brother’s charges had already crossed, leaving my comrades in the Serafim and De Mortie covens in their wake. Renette waved amicably my way before turning to a mirror and muttering the incantation in Louisiana Creole, her charges on her tail. Gal and Sofia waved excitedly from Gerardo’s side; the witch head offered me a curt nod before muttering his incantation in Brazilian Portuguese. The Naismith and Young covens were blended together, most of them standing by and gossiping amongst themselves as their witch heads accessed adjacent portals.
Axel was waiting dutifully with Lilly and Helena; the four of us crossed over together, returning to my basement. My vampire brother left to feed, while we greeted Nanny and got ready for bed. After all that unexpected exercise, I was in desperate need of a shower before turning in, but it was only a few minutes before I was lying between my two best friends on my pull-out couch. I was exhausted–my muscles were sore and aching, my eyes could barely stay open, and it wasn’t long before sleep overtook me.
The following morning, I woke up to messages from several witch heads. Arabela, Izayah, and Gunnar all informed me that their parents had approved my request, and the former two gave me the names of the charges tasked with tutoring me and a list of days and times when they were available. Ifanna Towne, the first heir of the Towne Coven and Douglas Burroughs’ witch head, reached out to confirm her approval, and asked me to confer with Douglas regarding his schedule. The other witch heads sent similar messages, citing their approval and when they were available to teach me themselves. The only one who didn’t actually specify that she had gotten permission from her coven to teach me was Millicent, but I didn’t pry–I figured she had her reasons for teaching me in secret.
Speaking of secrets, I still had no clue who Sage’s mystery aeromancy tutor was, and the anticipation was killing me. Who could it be?
At breakfast, Nanny revealed that he had learned about me invoking the Duel of Ardor, and though he looked thoroughly concerned and expressed great caution, he promised to train me in the basics of pyromancy… And to make sure my kitchen was stocked with snacks and beverages for the witches that would be coming to tutor me over the next month.
Recalling my promise to Axel the night before, I cleared my throat and said, “Oh, and you know how I have two guides? Galiana Franco and Sage Bloodworth?”
Nanny frowned, his spatula raised in mid-air. He was preparing homemade pancakes and wearing an apron I had given him on a previous birthday that read, “I swear it’s not poisoned” in thick, bold font. “Sage Bloodworth..? Oh, you mean Musagetes? I haven’t seen them since they were a toddler.”
My eyebrows rose. “You know them?”
“Well, I know their parents,” he revealed with a shrug. “My family used to provide security to all the influential witches across the U.K. Bram and Gloria are two of the nicest witch heads you’ll ever meet.”
I nodded along. “Oh, okay. Well, they and Gal will probably come around a lot even when they aren’t tutoring me in their affinity, if that’s alright. They’ve been a big help when it comes to managing my workload and picking out clubs.”
“I’ll add them to the security log,” he smirked, before adding in a curious tone. “Any clubs picked out?”
I bit my bottom lip. “I want to join the High Flyers Club.”
My guardian nodded absentmindedly and began plating the food, handing breakfast to first Lilly, then Helena, and finally me. “Last I checked, AOA was apprehensive to let freshmen join that club.”
“They still are,” I grumbled, stabbing a blueberry with my fork.
Nanny smirked. “You know, the clubs are also entirely run by the students. Sure, they’ve got professors keeping an eye out to make sure you don’t kill each other, but beyond that it’s up to the captain and co-captain to accept or reject your entry.”
I mulled over his words as I ate breakfast in relative silence, listening to Lilly and Helena share their club picks with Nanny. So, I have to impress Diego and Gerardo… I’d hoped that Diego would be the easier one to win over since he’s one of Max’s closest friends, but that’s exactly what makes him a difficult read. He’s loyal to Max, and Max is so focused on watching after me for his dad that he doesn’t want me on a damn broom. That leaves Gerardo, the one I’d expect to be difficult–except he already seems impressed by me. Why else would he agree to tutor me himself?
The rest of the day was kind of crazy; my friends and I had to put up a calm front and act as if everything was chill, all while sharing ideas for the party via Enchat. Nanny had reminded me three times throughout the course of the day that he was leaving for his date around six, a sign that he was nervous. I thought maybe he suspected we were throwing a party until Axel pointed out that Val wouldn’t snitch, so it was more likely that he was nervous about his date. She was supposed to be a witch from a nearby coven, but he never said her name, so I wasn’t sure who he was meeting with.
Since he would be leaving so early and most likely wouldn’t return until four the following morning, we let Jett and Gunnar know they and their friends could arrive as early as eight. I at least wanted some time to get ready beforehand; Val had lost the key to her suite, so she used a spell to lock her and Nanny’s doors. We wanted to keep the party upstairs in mine and Axel’s suites, though we knew many people would want to stay in the basement. Lilly helped us transform it into a cool party room; a couple of tables for drinks sat opposite the portal, and we had brought a sofa and some chairs, arranging them around the room. The center space was dedicated for dancing, and with Val’s help we set up a few smart speakers along the room’s perimeter and hooked them up to Lilly’s phone. We also hung up fairy lights along the walls, placed two rainbow strobe lamps in opposite corners, and moved the antique mirror beneath the staircase, allowing our guests to arrive off to one side without walking into any dancers.
Lilly was our designated DJ for the night, looking sleek in a deep-V neck long-sleeve crop top, black lace-up denim shorts, and knee-high boots. A black ribbon choker was snug around her slender neck, and her shoulder-length hair framing her face in golden waves. With her smoky eyeshadow, triple wing cat-eye mascara, and deep black lips, she looked every bit the confident heir of the Naismith Coven.
Helena was arranging the food and refreshments on the tables provided; her sleeveless white lace dress was worn with a slim brown leather belt across her lower torso and over solid black leggings. Her cropped maroon cardigan matched her suede ankle booties perfectly, and her straight black hair was lightly styled with a curler to imitate loose waves, the bottom half of which framed her face while the top half was pulled up in a ponytail. Stud earrings shaped like flowers hung from her earlobes, and her signature crow necklace hung from around her neck.
One of the tables she was fixated on contained a bucket filled with ice and soda cans, stacks of plastic cups, and a couple of scoops for the ice. The adjacent table contained (much to Helena’s chagrin) an assortment of alcoholic beverages, ranging from wine coolers to aged liquor. We added them to the menu at Axel and Lilly’s insistence, and I only agreed after Val gave her blessing. The food and blood (for our undead guests) was upstairs in the top floor suites, and I had just descended to the basement after doing a sweep over our floor. I was grateful for Axel’s speed cleaning, which he accomplished before he went to work, and all I really had to do was clean my kitchen and bathroom, hang cute “restroom” signs on the doors, double-check the locks on Val and Nanny’s doors, and make sure the applicable electronics were on. We had decided Axel’s suite would be the game lounge; guests could play multiplayer video games in the living room, and he said he had set up his guestroom to be another type of gaming lounge, but I wasn’t really sure what he meant by that.
Meanwhile, across the hall in my suite, the living room was nicknamed the tearoom, where guests could take a break from dancing to listen to gentle music and mingle with others. My guest room was converted into a karaoke room; I had moved my beloved broomstick, Star, to my bedroom closet out of paranoia that someone might try to ride her in a drunken stupor.
“Top floor’s ready,” I reported as I hopped down off the bottom step with a huff.
Lilly and Helena glimpsed up from their tasks; the Naismith heir did a double-take, while my oldest friend gasped and brought her hands to her mouth.
“Wow!” she gushed.
“Holy shit, Car! You look awesome!” Lilly applauded.
Warmth flooded my cheeks as I regarded my outfit with a downwards glance. I was dressed in a loose-fitting blue romper with a V-neckline, smocked waist, and lace trim. The bell sleeves were sheer, and the entire piece featured a Swiss dot pattern. My onyx curls were pulled up in a slightly unkempt bun atop my head, leaving a few stray curls to frame my face while also showing off the yellow acrylic crescent moon earrings that dangled from my ears. A white gold pendant hung from my neck, harboring yellow yarrow clusters crystallized in charmed resin that kept the tiny petals eternally blooming. Matching white gold bangles clinked against one another around my wrists, and my look was completed with a pair of ivory white ballet flats and simple makeup on my features.
“Thanks, guys,” I simpered, feeling a little embarrassed. Then I gestured to their outfits. “You both look hot!”
Helena giggled and tucked some hair behind her ear while Lilly proudly stood arms akimbo. “Right?! The three of us are gonna steal the limelight from all the upperclassmen hotties!”
My blush persisted. “I doubt Teagan has her sights set on any upperclassmen… That I know of.”
“Yeah, yeah, we know,” Lilly waved off my remark. “Your precious vampire G-F only has eyes for you. I was aiming that more at ‘sweet little Helena’.”
She threw a pointed stare at our friend, who fidgeted under her hazel gaze. “Uh-um–!”
“Hel?” I asked, one of my eyebrows cocked with curiosity as a smirk played on my lips.
Her face flushed with color. “I-I–Lilly’s just–”
Lilly snickered. “Yup, I knew it. You sure I can’t convince you to take off your leggings? You’ll look even hotter, and you’ll still have your cardigan.”
Helena pouted, her face contorted by her conflicted emotions. She was a good girl, never one to show off skin or dress up for parties, so for her to suddenly consider foregoing her modesty at a not-so-secret high school party…
My eyes widened with surprise as she nodded intently. “Y-Yeah… I’ll go change.”
I clapped my hands together triumphantly as Helena began for the stairs, and Lilly let out a cheer. “Fuck yes! Hurry–the pack should be here any second!”
As if spurred on by her words, Helena raced past me and up the steps to my suite. I watched on, suspicion plain on my face as I approached the Naismith heir. It wasn’t until we heard the attic door creak that we began our conversation in hushed whispers.
“What was that about?” I asked.
Lilly rolled her eyes. “Obviously she’s crushing on someone, Car. Someone who’s coming to the party.”
My thoughts scoured the ever-growing mental guest list. I had invited every witch head, including the ones who had rejected me (even though Rosa hadn’t even given me time to invite her, so I made sure to extend the invitation through one of her charges), and we were expecting the entire Salem Pack and at least a few wolves from the Denver Pack. “I’ve invited so many people, I can’t even think of who it could be–not to mention there’ll probably be plus-ones and party crashers…”
She shot me a disappointed glare. “Dude, seriously? You’re really having difficulty figuring it out?”
I folded my arms, peeved. “You know I’m bad at this shit! Besides, why would she tell you and not me?”
“She didn’t tell me, Miss Jelly,” Lilly smirked. “I just pay attention.”
“Okay, well, who do you think it is?”
Lilly opened her mouth to answer, but was interrupted by the sound of the portal activating behind me. I spun around in time to see our first guests, my excitement rising. My first high school party had officially begun!