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With cross charm, p.7
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       With Cross & Charm, p.7

           D.L. Miles
 

  Chapter 6

  I bravely survive my morning classes, no thanks to my friends. Beth insists I’m paranoid, and Delilah insists my feelings of unease and fear have to do with actually liking Cain. When Ithinara starts to chime in I don’t know what to think anymore; maybe I really do like Cain. I glance around my History class and notice a lot of the girls are talking about him.

  “Isn’t he so dark?” one asks. “He looks so cool; I bet he rides a motorcycle when he’s not in that Jeep.”

  Another girl rolls her eyes. “Have you talked to him? He’s in my biology class and he’s nice. So not a bad boy.”

  The first girl pouts and I feel it’s time to stop listening in. Is Cain nice? I guess he is; I was probably too panicked to notice any kindness he showed me. He did drive me home yesterday…

  And he knows where you live, Ithinara says, isn’t that interesting?

  I don’t reply and merely purse my lips. Ithinara was not going to make me start debating whether Cain is a demon hunter or not. Not in class, not today. I inhale deeply and hope the bell rings soon. Instead I get Cain Steel walking into the room.

  My breath catches. He still doesn’t scare me like Nico does, but there’s a hint of something there. The hairs on my arms raise when he looks at me, directly at me, and smiles. My stomach flutters.

  I can feel Ithinara mentally rolling her eyes.

  “Is this seat taken?” Cain asks, pointing beside me. I shake my head and he sits there, casual.

  “I didn’t think you were taking history,” I say, trying to figure out what was going on. Is he purposefully taking every class I’m in? Is he doing this to try and draw out Ithinara? I curse myself, already beginning to debate the issue.

  Cain shrugs. “There was a mess-up with my transcripts or something,” he says, “they had me in Chemistry but I’ve already taken it. So here I am.”

  “Lucky me,” I mutter.

  As the bell finally rings the girls that had been talking about Cain notice his arrival and start to talk to him. I keep my attention on the front of the class, impatiently awaiting Ms. Coyne, the history teacher, to arrive. But I feel as if Cain is watching me, and risk a peek at him. He isn’t, and that makes me feel worse.

  I told you, Ithinara says. My chest is starting to hurt, just a bit, and the teacher has yet to arrive. Quickly packing up my notebook I race out of the room, hoping to find some fresh air somewhere.

  There’s a group of boys in front of the doors leading outside, and I decide it’s worth the trouble. It’s so hard to breathe in here! I walk past them as one says, “Where you going?”

  “Outside,” I answer. Ithinara is making my blood boil, though she denies it again. I can feel her in my arms, ready to snap at any chance the boys gives her. Getting a closer look at the four, I can see they’re the ones that cause the most trouble in school. One of them had been suspended for bringing a knife, another for allegedly trying hitting a teacher. I shouldn’t have come this way.

  “We were about to go have some fun,” one says, holding two fingers to his lips as if puffing a joint. “Wanna join?”

  I lick my lips. “No thanks.” I try to get past when he grabs my arm above the elbow.

  “Come on,” he prods, “we’ll play nice.”

  “I said no,” I growl and try to shove him away. Unfortunately it works too well. The boy goes flying back into the lockers, leaving a dent as he connects. The bang is so loud I want to cover my ears, and two of the other boys do.

  “What the fu—”

  “What’s going on down there?” Ms. Coyne calls. We all turn to see her coming down the hallway, fury in her eyes. Behind her is Cain, and he isn’t looking at me like he should. He should be worried, or curious, but he just looks…

  Calculating, Ithinara finishes.

  The boy I hit groans and looks up with a blank expression, his eyes not really seeing anything.

  “What’s wrong with your eyes?” he mumbles. “What are you?”

  I don’t even know anymore. The door is still open, and I take my chance to run outside. It isn’t my best option, I know that, but my flight instinct has always overpowered my fight.

  Outside I can finally breathe, but running is making it harder. When I round a corner I duck behind a tree, backpack falling to the ground. A hand goes over my pumping heart, and I try to use the rhythm to calm me down.

  “Why did you do that?” I ask. “Why?”

  He touched you, Ithinara answers, I didn’t like it.

  “What do you care who touches me?” I feel like I’m about to cry. Everything is so confusing. I’m supposed to hate Ithinara, loathe her because she wants me to kill for her, but then she goes and does this. She protects me. The human Nico terrifies me. I can’t tell who’s good and who’s bad anymore.

  Everyone is both, Ithinara says.

  “That doesn’t make sense,” I whisper.

  “What doesn’t make sense?” a voice asks. I almost scream as I jump away from the tree, Cain’s face appearing beside me. He’s a little red, and breathing heavier than he should. Did he run after me? He looks too normal, too in control of his breath to have been running…but he never would have caught up so quickly if he hadn’t run.

  “Everything,” I say. You, I think.

  Cain comes around and leans against the tree, his hands in his pockets. “Did you toss that guy into the locker?”

  “No,” I quickly lie. “I mean I pushed him…but he grabbed me and I just…”

  “Yeah, I didn’t think so,” he says, “they clearly smoked one too many.” He offers me his hand, the one with the cross ring on it. “The teacher was worried about you so she sent me. Wanna go back and ease her mind?”

  I stare at his hand and already feel the burn of the cross as if it were on my flesh. When I realize I’m staring I force myself to look into his eyes, and he’s watching me. Always with that same unwavering gaze.

  “I’m going home,” I declare, “but you can tell Ms. Coyne I’m fine. I’ll get my dad to call or something.”

  Cain doesn’t seem to like that answer, but he lowers his hand. “Do you want me to take you? My car is—”

  “It’s fine.” I grab my backpack and haul it over my shoulder. “I don’t live too far from here.”

  He knows that, Ithinara says.

  “It’s a five minute drive,” Cain argues and begins to follow me as I walk down the sidewalk. My legs feel like wet noodles, and my arms feel stiff. It’s hard to keep my composure.

  “I need the walk,” I lie, “to calm down. Please, just…go away.”

  Cain flinches and stops. “If that’s what you want.”

  I can’t hear his footsteps over my own as he heads back to school.

  Dad is a mixture of fury and worry when he gets home. It’s only been half an hour since I tossed someone into the lockers hard enough to leave a dent, and he’s already here. I’m lying on the couch awaiting my punishment.

  “Are you okay?” he asks. “What did you do? What did he do?”

  “What were you told?” I ask back.

  “That you got into a fight with some drug users and somehow one ended up in the hospital.”

  I sit up straight and look at him over the back of the couch. Did I actually end up sending someone to the hospital?

  Don’t underestimate your strength, Ithinara says.

  “I’m fine,” I tell Dad, “I just panicked after and left.” I mention that Cain found me and tried to help. Ithinara scoffs at the thought of Cain genuinely helping me.

  “Right, that boy,” Dad murmurs. He comes around and sits on the coffee table in front of me, taking my hands into his. “You’re okay?”

  I nod. “Yup.”

  Dad wraps his arms around me and gives me a tight hug, and I give him one back. It’s the same kind of hug he used to give me as a child after Mom died; desperate. When I was a kid I found it comforting, now I realize i
t’s his way of showing he’s scared. I hate myself for making him feel that way, but it’s nothing new. I’ve always scared him.

  He takes a deep breath and lets me go. “I’m going to have a damn long conversation with your principal about what happened, just you wait.”

  I try to stop him, but it doesn’t work.

  The boys get expelled the same day, after having so many marks on their record, and it’s all because I couldn’t handle Ithinara.

  That evening Beth and Delilah come over in a panic.

  “What happened?” Beth asks. “We heard you were attacked!”

  “I heard you were in the hospital,” Delilah tells me. “And you went all karate-kid on someone.”

  I usher them to my room so Dad doesn’t hear the truth. As I slam my door I say, “I’m fine. Ithinara sort of…helped.” I can’t think of a better word to use.

  “She helped?” Beth asks, appalled.

  I explain what happened, and after careful consideration I mention how Cain followed me. Delilah is giddy, but Beth still seems worried. None of us question exactly why Ithinara did what she did, because I bet she did it to create chaos. It worked wonderfully, and helped destroy four lives in the process. Five if you count mine.

  Their lives were on the path to destruction before I got there, Ithinara says. Did you know one of those boys has killed already?

  I don’t think about it. Instead I say, “I can’t keep sitting around and waiting to find out if the Steele’s are hunters or not. I need to know.”

  “Because you like Cain?” Delilah asks, annoyingly giddy.

  I try to deny it, but I can’t. Maybe I don’t have that undeniable love that’s so intense I can’t stop thinking about him, or that I dream about him or something, but I like him. There’s something about Cain I’m attracted to.

  It’s the hunter’s charm, Ithinara say, all demons are drawn to hunters.

  “What’s that?” I ask.

  Delilah begins to repeat the question until I hold a finger to her lips. “Hunter’s charm?”

  Ithinara sighs. Those that are touched by the unholy have an attraction to those with the light. Like Beth.

  “Beth isn’t a hunter,” I say loudly. My friend flinches.

  There’s laughter in my head. My mouth gapes. “Beth?”

  “What?” Delilah is looking between us. It takes her a moment to put everything together, and I’m not sure I’m quite there yet. “B,” Delilah says, “you’re a hunter?”

 
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