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With cross charm, p.5
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       With Cross & Charm, p.5

           D.L. Miles

  Chapter 4

  When I leave Beth and return home I’m desperate to find out what Ithinara meant when she’d said Nico Steele was a hunter. Of course I realize that she is a hunter of demons, but that seems so out there that I don’t want to believe it. Ithinara teases me on what I choose to believe and not believe. She isn’t giving me answers anymore, so I search online.

  There’s too many role-playing websites and television shows cluttering up the internet that I can’t tell what’s supposed to be true and what’s supposed to be a game. I hate that people think watching someone being possessed by a demon is entertainment.

  After a long while I finally find a forum that seems serious, with no mention of games or shows or books. A person is asking what they would do if actually possessed by a demon. I scan through the answers looking for any mention of a hunter until I find one response: “You can’t do anything; when a demon takes over you will have no control over your body, and in some cases even your thoughts. You just have to pray to God that a hunter will find you and kill you to end your suffering.”

  I swallow audibly and reread the words while Ithinara hums in my head. It’s easy to pretend like she isn’t there, and I click on the screen-name that commented about hunters. Every other post on the forum was about how ridiculous demon possession is.

  When I get to the profile of whomever commented I notice they don’t give their real name. I only have the screen-name CleanSpiritz, and a brief blurb about someone claiming they can destroy the devil within. They seem like a true believer, but don’t give their location other than North America.

  And then I realize what I’m doing.

  I’m on an obscure forum on the internet trying to find out if my new volleyball coach is a demon hunter that wants to kill me. Even though there’s a demon in my head, it sounds ridiculous. I begin to think Ithinara was just messing with me, and I hear her giggle.

  I bite my lower lip and shake my head. “I’m an idiot.”

  There is no way Nico Steele is a demon hunter, because if she is I would have been dead, or maybe saved, long ago. She’s lived in Hollow’s Point at least since my “exorcism”, so how could she not have found me? My instincts are lying to me, and I’m exhausted.

  I go to bed, humming Ithinara’s strange tune.

  The next morning I’m feeling better, and Beth calls early just to check up on me. I tell her the truth, and that I’m certain that Nico is not a danger to me; but she brings up the point of volleyball. After taking some time to think, I decide that I really am going to quit. It’s my senior year, and I should focus on my grades.

  When I tell Dad he thinks it’s a good idea. He says, “Just make sure you actually focus on your grades and not some boy.”

  I roll my eyes, listening to Ithinara snicker. “I think I’m safe from any boys, Dad. Have you seen one around here?”

  He gives me a stern look from behind his newspaper. “It’s bound to happen sooner or later.”

  Neither of us is mentioning last night, and I want to apologize for my behaviour but find I can’t do it. Guilt settles in my stomach, but I continue to joke about boys. “You sound like Delilah; she’s determined to find me a boyfriend this year.”

  “Well when she finds someone tell her to send him to me first,” Dad says, “I’ll be sure to straighten him out.”

  A car honks from the driveway and I recognize it as Beth. I furrow my brow and set my cereal bowl into the sink and turn to look out the front window. Beth never picks me up at the house.

  “That’s strange,” Dad says, “is it Beth?”

  “Yeah,” I confirm, “I guess I’m going to school a little early.”

  We say our goodbyes and I hurry to meet my friends; Beth looks like she got no sleep while Delilah sits happily in the front seat. The top is down so I jump into the back. “What are you two doing here so early?”

  “Just thought you might want to get to school early and talk to Coach Henderson,” Beth says, but I feel it’s a lie. Her cross is around her neck and I notice she has a bracelet on featuring Jesus and more crosses. I spooked her last night, and the guilt within me grows.

  Delilah doesn’t notice anything. “Are we going shopping this weekend for dresses?”

  “I’m free tomorrow,” I say.

  “Sounds good,” Beth agrees, and we jet off towards school.

  When we arrive I tell Delilah I’ll meet her in Creative Writing; I want to get quitting volleyball over with fast, hoping Nico isn’t the one I have to talk to. Finding Coach Henderson’s classroom, also known as Chemistry, I see she’s with Nico and the class is devoid of students.

  I knock hesitantly on the door, swallowing my fear. “Coach?”

  Both women look over. Nico is standing between me and Coach Henderson and I wish she would just go away. I don’t really care to explain to her why I’m quitting, and the sickness swells in my stomach.

  “Come in Queen,” Coach tells me, “we’re just discussing grading.”

  “Um,” I begin, “I’m not sure how to say this but I need to quit the volleyball team.”

  Coach Henderson’s eyebrows raise, but Nico remains still. She looks to Coach.

  “Why do you want to quit?” Coach asks. “You’re one of our best players.”

  “I just really want to focus on my grades this year,” I explain quickly, hoping they would buy my lie. “I’m trying to get into a few difficult schools and I just really need to stay on track.”

  I can see Coach trying to decide if she should argue with me, and she tries. “Schools love seeing extracurricular activities on a resume; are you sure you want to take that away?”

  She makes an annoyingly good point. I glance at Nico who is just watching our conversation. Sweat begins to form on my forehead and I begin to tap my fingers against my leg. I’ve never felt so nervous before. “My grades are really suffering right now,” I lie, “I’m sorry; I’d love to stay on but I just don’t think it would be in my best interest.”

  Coach sighs. “If that’s how you feel Willa. If you ever want back on the team just ask, okay?”


  And just like that I lose another thing I love. I never thought I would miss Coach calling me by my last name.

  By the time I make it to Creative Writing it feels as if there’s a weight on my shoulders. Relieving myself of volleyball was supposed to make me feel better but now there’s a hole in my chest. Had I really loved it that much? I tell myself the hurt will go away with time.

  Delilah is sitting in the last row with Albert in front of her. The only empty seats are now on the far left, by the door and I don’t bother to question why she didn’t save a seat for me; she and Albert are holding hands beneath the desks.

  She does send me a sympathetic smile as I sit down and I just shrug when she asks how it went. My head rests in my hands, too heavy to stay up on its own.

  It’s only a silly sport, Ithinara says, who cares?

  “I care,” I mutter, and nobody around me notices. The idle chatter is particularly loud today and I start listening in. Everyone is talking about the new kid; Cain Steele. I groan and bury my head in my arms; I’d completely forgotten about him.

  Ithinara laughs. Change, change, change, she chants.

  “I hate change,” I mutter, and again nobody notices. At least I thought nobody did.

  “What’s wrong with change?” a deep voice questions. I open my eyes and look up to find the seat in front of me is now occupied by someone I don’t recognize. He’s turned around to face me, his hand resting on the back of the chair. A silver cross ring sits on his middle finger.

  Cain Steele.

  “Pardon?” I stutter.

  “Why do you hate change?” he asks. I look into his eyes, a strange mix of green and grey. His dark hair is unkempt and curls just past his ears where I see a cross tattoo. I groan internally; what’s with all the holy symbols?

  I ignore his q
uestion and say, “Class is starting.”

  Luckily the bell rings, and he furrows his brow at me before turning to face the front. My face feels red, and my stomach flutters. I look at Delilah who was probably watching us the entire time and she raises her eyebrows to ask a silent question. She mouths, “Sick?”

  I go to answer when I realize I don’t feel sick at all. Despite the silver cross ring and tattoo on his neck, Cain Steele does not give me the same feeling as Nico. He does not scare me.

  Suddenly my day looks a whole lot better.

  We’re still working on poetry in Creative Writing, and Mr. Diaz has to keep telling students to keep their eyes forward; people keep sneaking glances at Cain. I have to admit I am doing the same, but it’s much easier for me to stare since he’s sitting directly in front of me.

  Cain has wide shoulders and looks like he would be bullied for wearing too much black. With the cross tattoo I would bet he gets called Goth a lot, and I wonder if it gives him trouble. He’s the first guy I’ve seen in Hollow’s Point that wears jewelry that isn’t a wedding ring. None of the males in my school would ever do that.

  “Miss Queen would you please pay attention to the subject matter rather than the back of Mr. Steele’s head?” I hear someone say. I look away from Cain just as he turns to glance at me and find all eyes are on me, including Mr. Diaz. He’s sending me a glare.

  “I—uh,” I stammer, unable to find any words. “I wasn’t—”

  “Pay attention,” Mr. Diaz orders and I nod as I slide further down my chair. My face is beating and I imagine very red, but thankfully Cain doesn’t react. Not that I can see anyway.

  The rest of class I’m careful not to look at Cain, but it’s tempting. I’ve never been tempted to look at something so much, and I wonder if Ithinara has anything to do with it.

  Stop blaming me for your sad human feelings, Ithinara scoffs.

  Okay, maybe not. I wonder why she feels Nico is dangerous and not Cain until I remind myself that it was her version of a practical joke. I remember Beth said Cain doesn’t go to church and I tell myself that Nico is more connected to her religion which is why she makes me sick and scared. Cain clearly doesn’t have that connection if he doesn’t go to church…but he does wear a cross. I wonder if his tattoo would burn me.

  In what situation would you be touching it? Ithinara asks. I blush again, an image coming to mind from Ithinara. She denies sending it, but I know it was her even though she hasn’t sent me images in years.

  Delilah pulls me aside in the hallway to interrogate me. “Is it like with,”—she glances over her shoulder—“like with her?”

  I shake my head. “There’s nothing at all. Not even from his tattoo.”

  “Tattoo?” Delilah asks.

  I tell her about the cross on his neck. She says, “Well, that’s good then right? It means that whatever you feel,”—another glance over the shoulder—“with her is like a one-time thing.”

  I agree. Suddenly Delilah’s worried demeanor turns sly. “So is Mistah Steele a candidate for Operation King?”

  I blink. “Huh?”

  “You were staring at him all through class,” Delilah laughs and swats me. “Is he the one I should focus on for finding you a boyfriend?”

  “Why is finding me a boyfriend called Operation King?”

  “Finding the King to your Queen, duh.” Delilah rolls her eyes as if that should have been obvious to me. I debate about my feelings towards Cain, and decide having him as a boyfriend would be terrible; he wears a cross and is related to Nico. It would never work out.

  You never know, teases Ithinara.

  I decide it’s time to change the subject. “So you and Albert are dating again?”

  Delilah’s face scrunches up with what I think is disgust. “We’re seeing each other, not dating.”

  I gesture to start walking to our next classes; I have Calculus and she has Business, but they’re side by side. Somewhere down another hallway Beth is in English and we won’t see her until lunch. “Aren’t seeing each other and dating the same thing?”

  “Dating sounds so exclusive,” Delilah whines, “I don’t want to be tied down. I’ll see you when you’re done Calc?”

  I can’t tell if she’s saying this because Albert was the one to break up with her, or she really doesn’t want to be tied to one person. Either way I don’t know what to say, so I ask, “Are you not going to class?”

  She shakes her head and starts walking down another hallway. I stop as she grins. “I have other plans.” Her eyes dart to the left and I follow to find Cain approaching me.

  “Did she say you have Calculus next, with Ms. Welch?” he asks me. I freeze, my mind trying to figure out what’s going on. I’m not sure how Delilah has done it, but I’m sure this is her handiwork.

  “Uh, yeah,” I say.

  “Can you show me?” he asks. “I’m still trying to find my way around.”

  I nod nervously. “Sure, it’s just upstairs.” I point to the nearby staircase and we start walking. I’m a foot ahead of him, and it feels awkward. When we reach the top he takes a large step and walks beside me, forcing anyone coming down the stairs to move aside for him. They don’t seem to mind, and go about their day normally.

  “I wasn’t staring at you in class,” I blurt. “I was just sort of spacing out and it happened to be in the direction of your head.”

  He laughs. “I figured. What’s your name?”

  “Willa,” I answer. I don’t know what to say again, I just want to make sure he knows I really wasn’t thinking about him all through class. Even though I was.

  “Cain,” he says with a smile. It seems out of place on him and he reaches his hand towards me to shake; the hand with his cross ring. I flinch back.

  “Sorry, I don’t—ah…I’m not comfortable touching people so casually,” I quickly lie. I catch his smile turn into a smirk, but he lowers his hand just as we reach the classroom door. “This is it. And sorry about the hand shaking thing—I’m just—”

  “Not comfortable touching,” he repeats. “It’s cool, I get it.”

  I’m nodding my head too much and force myself to stop. Without saying another word I hurry into class and take my usual seat by the window, and Cain sits behind me. I feel like he’s watching me as I had watched him, tit for tat. There’s only a few other people in class and nothing to distract me from my paranoid thoughts. I keep thinking Cain is staring right at me, so I take out my notes and read over the homework.

  He taps my shoulder. My back straightens and slowly I turn to find Cain looking directly at me. He asks, “What have you been working on here?”

  I can’t even remember. Calculus is my worst subject, and lately I’d been so focused on Nico Steele that I lost track of class. I say, “Just recapping last year, I guess.” It sounds like it’s plausible.

  “Right, thanks.” He doesn’t sound like he means it, but then again I gave him a terrible answer.

  I’m grateful when the class fills with other students and the bell rings. Cain Steele doesn’t talk to me for the rest of class, but Ithinara tells me that he is watching.

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