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With cross charm, p.23
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       With Cross & Charm, p.23

           D.L. Miles

  Chapter 22

  “She’s lying,” Beth says. “She has to be.”

  “It wouldn’t be the first time,” I agree, “but I don’t think she is this time.” I sigh and think over all the times Ithinara has protected me. The first time was when my mother attacked me, and I had thought she’d gone insane. Apparently it was only because Vetis was inside of her.

  I rub my hands together, a cold seeping in. We are still inside Beth’s bathroom, each of us in a daze. I’m not sure how long we’ve been here for.

  “So you think we need her help?” Beth questions.

  “No,” I say quickly. “I just don’t think she’s lying. I’m not going to let her possess me again, no way.” I just have to avoid my reflection for a while. At least until we can get rid of Vetis and Ithinara permanently.

  We spend the rest of the day brainstorming ideas on how to perform an exorcism, and I leave the book of demon knowledge with Beth. If anyone is going to figure this out, I know it will be her. She thinks that since Vetis is so powerful that we will need to get him onto holy ground to perform a proper exorcism, and give us a slight chance at saving Cain—if he’s even still in there. Beth didn’t say it, but I could tell there’s a chance he’s gone.

  I put on my jacket at the front door of her house, telling her to call me if she needs anything. Dad will be here soon to pick me up; I’m more than a little grateful I don’t have to walk home. If I ran into Vetis again I’m not sure I would survive.

  “Do you think you’re going to school tomorrow?” Beth asks, a hidden meaning beneath her words while her parents listen in. If I go I will surely see Vetis.

  “Maybe,” I say. “Do you want me to get you anything from there? Like…assignments?” It’s a lame thing to ask, considering Beth’s last concern is schoolwork. It would be even without demons around

  Beth gives a strong nod. “Only if you go. I mean, you can come hang out here again if it’s okay with your dad.”

  “I’ll text you in the morning,” I tell her. I open the door to leave, seeing Delilah is staying overnight again. As I do I am blocked by a shadow. I expect to see Cain’s blue-grey eyes there, but as I turn I find Nico, holding a bouquet of flowers. Her smile is gentle and warm, and everything about her is inviting. It’s nothing like when we first met.

  I open the door wide so she can talk with Beth and her parents.

  “I’m so sorry to hear about what happened,” Nico says. She seems at a loss for words, because what else can you say when someone dies? Everyone here has strong ties to their religion, and despite their pain they know he’s in a better place.

  I have my doubts.

  They invite Nico inside, and she gives me a small nod, a hug for Beth. Dad pulls up to the curb and waves at me, so I take my leave. I give Beth a hug, and then Delilah. Just as Delilah pulls me towards her she whispers, “Field trip.”

  My eyes widen with the thought. I don’t have any time to ask how we could make that work, because Beth is being pulled away. We part, a plan beginning to form.

  If we manage to get Vetis alone on the trip to Hollow’s Church, it might be our only chance to catch him unguarded. I shiver as I sit down beside Dad, feeling the weight of an impossible task leaning on my shoulders.

  “Catching a cold?” Dad asks. “It’s probably from running around in the rain the other day.”

  I nod. “Maybe.”

  I look out the window and catch my reflection; my eyes flash bright green for a fraction of a second before fading out. I quickly close them, even though Ithinara is already gone. As I do my other senses take over, and I find the scent of flowers wafting towards me while Dad starts to drive.

  I glance into the back seat. “Were those for Beth?” I ask. “Or Joe’s parents?”

  “Actually they’re for your mother,” Dad states quietly. “I thought…maybe we could visit her today. If you still want to.”

  I pause. “I do.” In a way there is nothing I want more than to visit my mother’s grave. But I’m afraid of how I might react when I see it. It’s been so long since everything happened, and I know my memory has warped the truth.

  I don’t know what I expect to see as we pull into the graveyard. For a split second I expect to be crushed by the electric force that once kept me out, but I enter just as easily as before. Nothing is stopping me, nothing hurts. Physically at least.

  Dad pulls over on the side of the dirt path and parks. We sit in the car a few minutes, each of us gathering courage. Dad is first to step out, and I remain in the car until he grabs the flowers and knocks on the window lightly.

  I set a foot against the dirt and gravel, feeling the rocks stab against the bottom of my shoes. We start walking, neither of us saying a word. I realize I don’t even know where Mom is buried exactly.

  Dad leads me down a row of grey headstones, each and every one of them coated with words and flowers. Each person loved, even after they’re gone. My heart rate picks up as Dad’s pace begins to slow. It isn’t long before he stops.

  He turns and hands the flowers to me, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. He’s looking down at the name I know I’ll soon read, but my eyes won’t listen to my brain. They stare forward for too long, refusing to move that small distance.

  They drop. My fingers wrap tighter around the flowers, almost crushing them before I manage to set them down before Mom’s name. It’s carved out of granite in big, chunky letters, stating her birth and day of death. Requiescat in pace.

  I’m kneeling before her while Dad stands beside me. “Can I talk to her alone?” I request.

  Dad stalls but soon agrees. “I’m right over here if you need me.”

  “Thanks,” I whisper. I wait until I can no longer hear his footsteps, or feel the comfort of his presence. I say, “I’m sorry, Mom. You’re dead because of me, just like Joe is.” I can feel tears brimming against my lashes. Heavy drops fall instantly, dotting the dying blades of grass below me.

  “You didn’t try to kill me,” I say, “it wasn’t even Ithinara like I thought. I’m sorry I blamed you for so long.” I wipe at my cheeks with my jacket sleeves. “I’m sorry, Mom.”

  I can’t say it enough. I had thought Ithinara was the one to try and kill me, for so long. But there were times when the doctor’s made me think that maybe I imagined it, maybe the trauma was too much because my own mother had attacked me. There were moments when I hated her for what she had done.

  There isn’t enough time in the world for me to try and make up for my thoughts, or even to try and make things right. I’m not sure I can make things right, not for my Dad, or for Joe and his family. Not for everyone in Hollow’s Point.

  At least I can try.

  Dad’s heavy steps approach me, and I stand, still wiping at my tears. He gives me a hug and another of his fatherly forehead kisses. “I’m sorry I took so long,” I say.

  “You can take as long as you need, sweetie,” he tells me. “Take all the time in the world.”

  We stay a while longer before heading home. My chest feels heavy, but I feel even more determined now.

  I assure myself that Vetis isn’t long for this world.

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