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With cross charm, p.8
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       With Cross & Charm, p.8

           D.L. Miles
 

  Chapter 7

  The world is spinning, because Beth doesn’t answer right away. She plays with the cross around her neck, as if praying for an answer to come to her. It’s what she always does when she doesn’t want to admit just how uncomfortable Ithinara makes her.

  “It’s so much more complicated than you know,” Beth says. “There’s an oath; I can’t tell anyone.”

  “Least of all someone like me?” I guess. “Have you been hunting me this entire time? Were you just waiting for me to do something so you have a reason to run back to your parents? Would they congratulate you for dealing with me for so long?”

  “It isn’t like that,” cries Beth. “I swear! Will, I just—I’m not a hunter. My family is! I have nothing to do with that stuff because I know the truth. Because I know you.”

  I flinch. Delilah is flicking her eyes between us, not taking sides. I just accused my best friend of hunting me, of waiting for me to do something so she could kill me. Even as the words left my mouth I regretted them, but how could I think differently?

  “Why didn’t you say anything?”

  “Because I wanted to protect you,” she says. “I thought that maybe if I made sure you didn’t find out that there were a bunch of hunters in town you wouldn’t be scared.” She shrugs. “It worked, didn’t it?”

  I look away, tears welling in my eyes as I bite down on my lips. “Yeah, it did.”

  Until Nico found you.

  “What about Nico?” I ask.

  “She’s a hunter,” Beth confirms, sitting down beside Delilah on the bed. “She’s lived here all her life, and from what I hear her family wanted Cain to have a more normal life.” She pauses.

  “What is it?” I ask.

  Beth shakes her head. “There’s something odd about Cain, something just a little off. They’ve never talked about him before—he just sort of showed up.”

  “What do you mean he just showed up?” Delilah questions, leaning back on the bed to appear as casual as she could. “People don’t just show up.”

  “Cain did.” Beth looks between us. “Nico and her family mentioned him once or twice, but a few years ago they just sort of stopped. I never thought about it until I found out he was coming to Wayward.”

  “So you think he’s a hunter too?”

  “He knows about demons,” Beth says. “But I don’t think he’s a hunter.”

  “So you’re saying Willa is good to date him?” Delilah jumps forward on the bed, bouncing Beth into the air.

  “Dating Cain is not my first priority, Del,” I say. I still can’t move anywhere, though my legs feel like jelly. I can’t bring myself to get closer to Beth.

  “I think it might be?” Beth suggests. Her hands are clasped together and she’s wincing in my direction. I gape. “Let me explain,” she says quickly. “I think Cain is more like me—he understands that demons are evil, but not all people possessed are evil.”

  I furrow my brow.

  “I was just thinking that getting close to Cain might be a good idea.”

  “An excellent idea,” Delilah cuts in. “My idea, by the way.”

  “How could dating a demon hunter help me?”

  “Just for a little while,” Beth says. “It could throw Nico off, get rid of her suspicions. Demons can sense hunters, and they avoid them. Getting close to Cain would be the opposite of what a demon would do.”

  Hmm, Ithinara hums, I like this idea.

  “What about the hunter’s charm?” I wonder. “What if they find out?”

  “It’s only Nico,” Beth says. “And I’m getting close to finding a way to get rid of Ithinara, I am! I just need some time, and if you keep avoiding Nico like you are she’ll figure it out.” Beth stands, her eyes watery and red. “Please, Willa, I’m so close. If Nico takes you—she’ll tell my dad and then—Will you have no idea.”

  My heart is in pieces. Millions of tiny shards stab at me and make me wonder just how far Beth has gone to make sure her family didn’t kill me. How often they must have wondered why I refused to go to church, or even visit my own mother’s grave. How often she had to lie to them, and how much that must have hurt her.

  “Beth,” I croak. “I’m sorry.”

  “I’m sorry, too,” she says.

  I’m sorry I have to listen to this, Ithinara groans. Are you going to date the Steele boy now? There’s something in her voice that tells me she likes the idea.

  Beth and I can’t hug, because her cross will burn me. So Delilah and her stand, and we do a group hug that protects me from the silver. A tear rolls down my cheek, and I sniff away the rest.

  “So you want to do this?” Beth asks. “We’ll find a way to get rid of her? For good?”

  I nod. We’d gotten so comfortable with her, she wasn’t doing anything. But now she constantly badgers me to start killing, and I just can’t handle itanymore. Not with Nico and Cain so close by, watching me.

  “I do,” I say. “No more complacency. Let’s do it!”

  Ithinara hisses inside my head. Fools. You will do as I wish.

  “So I can go full blown crazy on Operation King?” Delilah squeals.

  I can’t believe what I’ve agreed to as I sit down to dinner with Beth and Delilah. We decided to go out to eat, their attempt at convincing my dad that I’m okay. Maybe I am, because how different is my life now than before? Not very.

  I am still possessed.

  There are still demon hunters in town. But now I know they’re here, and I know how to handle them. I just have to act normal.

  Sitting with Beth and Delilah at the restaurant downtown makes me feel normal again, or at least as close as I’ll ever get. It reminds me that the demon is not my entire life, and that I still have a chance at normal.

  I wonder what Beth’s life has been like, growing up with demon hunters. Did it ever cross her mind to tell them about me?

  You think she hasn’t already told them? Ithinara suggests. Really?

  No, I tell her silently. Beth wants to help me. She’s been protecting me this entire time; I can’t doubt her now.

  I’ve been protecting you, Ithinara says, for more years that you’ve been alive.

  I shake my head, hoping she’ll leave me alone for a while. Ithinara did save me once, but at what cost? I still wasn’t even sure what had happened that night, only what I was told.

  The menu is cold beneath my fingers as I browse its many choices. Beth has already decided and sets her own menu on the edge, waiting for Delilah and me to finish. It feels like she’s watching me, so I glance up to see her staring at others in the restaurant. She flinches.

  I follow her gaze to the front door where I see Cain and Nico walk inside, with a young girl beside them. She can’t be much older than four, and she holds both their hands as they swing her to a stop by the hostess. Cain is smiling wide, creating small wrinkles beside his eyes. It’s how I can tell he’s actually happy. I’m not sure how I can feel so close to someone when I barely know them.

  “Do you want to go?” Delilah asks. “I know Operation King is going full force, but with her here…” Delilah shrugs as I turn back around.

  Determination takes over. “No,” I say. “It’s fine. Beth, you’re right, I can’t hide anymore.”

  Beth bites her lower lip and her hand raises to touch her cross but she stops herself. Soon she nods, and Delilah suggestively wiggles her eyebrows. “So I can invite him over then?” she asks.

  “No,” I say, “it looks like a family dinner.” I look over my shoulder again at them, and follow them as the hostess brings them to the other side of the restaurant. I sigh, relieved. As quickly as my determination had come, it left.

  “I think I’ll join the volleyball team again,” I mention, pretending like there wasn’t a demon hunter watching me from across the room. Because she is; I can feel Nico’s eyes on me, drifting over my skin like an acidic mist.

  “Th
at’s great,” Delilah exclaims. “I need more excuses to skip class. The teachers would never buy me wanting to see a game to cheer for the school.”

  “Thanks for the support.” I laugh, and my eyes slide easily towards Cain. I see him quickly look away, to the little girl with him. Was he watching me?

  I blush slightly, and go back to hiding behind the menu until the waiter shows up. Ithinara is telling me that Cain is watching me because he’s hunting me, and so is Nico. I remind her that she said she liked the idea of me dating Cain earlier, and flinch.

  Why would Ithinara like the idea of me dating Cain, and then suddenly not?

  It doesn’t make sense, and I wrack my brain over the possibilities. Somehow I manage to make my order, and the waiter later returns with our drinks.

  “It’ll work,” Beth says. “I know it will.”

  “What?” I ask.

  “The plan; uh…Operation King,” she replies. Delilah perks up with a grin now that we’ve started using her silly name. “They won’t suspect a thing.”

  I nod, her own hopeful gaze staring into mine. I begin to play with my cutlery as we switch over to a normal topic; like how I’m going to rejoin the volleyball team, and what we’re going to do in college. I lay my knife and fork on the dark red cloth when my hand twitches.

  Ithinara is trying to do something. I hide my hand under the table as she says, Now, do it now!

  Do what? I wonder.

  Kill him now, while you still have the chance, says Ithinara. Show the hunters you are to be feared.

  I blink and look up, a shadow encompassing our table. Cain stands there.

  Our eyes meet, and a drum is beating inside my head.

  Ithinara has finally revealed who she wants me to kill.

  And it is Cain.

 
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