And even though I didn’t want to believe it was Seth, I couldn’t shake my suspicions. Who else would do such a thing to Jackson? Seth had motive—a motive that made me feel ill. If he’d done it, it’d been because of what Jackson had done to me in class. But how could he do something so… violent, so unstable? That question haunted me.
The one good thing was that the weird funk that had settled over me like an itchy blanket faded. A tiny part of me missed Seth’s company in the evenings and the way he always managed to turn me into a human body pillow during the night, but there was another part of me that was sort of relieved. Like there wasn’t anything additional expected from me.
Even though no one tried to drug or kill me, Linard and Aiden still followed me around. And when they were busy, it was Leon’s massive shadow that lurked behind me. I’d taken to hanging around the training rooms even on the days Seth and I wouldn’t practice. I knew that Aiden would eventually find me there. We didn’t talk about being afraid again, but we sort of just… hung out… in the training room.
It sounded lame, but it was like the old times, before everything got so incredibly screwed up. Sometimes Leon popped in on us. He never seemed surprised or suspicious. Not even the last time, when we’d been sitting with our backs against the wall, arguing about whether or not ghosts existed.
I didn’t believe in them.
Leon had thought we were both idiots.
But damn, I looked forward to it. Just sitting there and talking. No training. No trying to tap in and use akasha. Those moments with Aiden, even when Leon decided to join us, were my favorite part of the day.
I hadn’t choked Olivia again, but things were super-awkward when I did see her—no big surprise there. But I did start eating my lunch in the cafeteria with Seth. After the second day, Luke joined us, then Elena, and finally Olivia. We didn’t talk, but we also didn’t yell anything at each other.
Some things didn’t change, though. The mortal holidays of Christmas and New Year came and went, along with most of January. Most of the pures still seemed to expect every half to turn into an evil-aether-sucking creature and jump them. Deacon, Aiden’s brother, was one of the few who braved sitting next to us in class or talking to us around campus. Another thing that hadn’t changed was my inability to write a letter to my father. What was I supposed to say? I had no idea. Each night that I’d been alone, I’d started a letter, and then stopped. Paper balls littered my floor.
“Just write what you’re feeling, Alex. You’re overthinking it,” Aiden had said after I’d complained. “You’ve known that he’s been alive for two months now. You need to just write without thinking.”
Two months? It hadn’t felt that long. And that meant I had a little over a month before I Awakened. Maybe I was trying to slow time down. Either way, my feelings were all over the place, and if my father was as competent as I believed him to be, I didn’t want him to think I had issues.
So after practice with Seth, I gathered up my notebook and headed over to one of the less crowded rec rooms. Curling up in the corner of a bright red sofa, I stared at a blank page and chewed on the end of my pen.
Linard took up position at the door, looking bored. When he caught me watching him, I made a face and returned to gazing at the blue lines on the paper. Luke interrupted a few times, trying to lure me into a game of air hockey.
When his shadow fell across my notebook again, I groaned. “I don’t want to…”
Olivia stood in front of me, wearing a thick cashmere sweater I immediately started lusting after. Her brown eyes were wide.
“Uh… sorry,” I said. “I thought you were Luke.”
She smoothed a hand over her curly hair. “He’s trying to get you to play skee ball?”
“No. He moved on to air hockey.”
Her laugh was nervous as she glanced over at the group by the arcade games. Then she squared her shoulders as she gestured at the spot beside me. “Can I sit?”
My stomach turned over. “Yeah, if you want.”
Olivia sat, running her hands over her jean-clad legs. Several moments passed without either of us speaking. She was the first to break the silence. “So, how… how have you been?”
It was a loaded question, and my laugh came out choked and harsh. I brought the notepad to my chest as I glanced over at Luke. He was pretending not to have noticed us together.
She let out a little breath and started to rise. “Okay. I guess—”
“I’m sorry.” My voice was low, words hoarse. I felt my cheeks burn, but I forced myself to keep going. “I’m sorry for everything, especially the thing in the hallway.”
Olivia squeezed her thighs. “Alex—”
“I know you loved Caleb and all I’ve been thinking about is my own hurt.” I closed my eyes and swallowed down the lump in my throat. “I really do wish I could go back and change everything that night. I’ve thought a million times about all the things we could’ve done differently.”
“You shouldn’t… do that to yourself,” she said quietly. “At first, I didn’t want to know what really happened, you know? Like the details. I just couldn’t… deal with knowing for awhile, but I finally got Lea to tell me everything about a week ago.”
I bit my lip, unsure of what to say. She hadn’t accepted my apology, but we were talking.
She drew in a shallow breath, eyes gleaming. “She told me that Caleb saved her. That you were fighting another daimon, and if he hadn’t grabbed her, she would’ve died.”
I nodded, clenching the notebook. Memories of the night surfaced, of Caleb streaking past me.
“He was really brave, wasn’t he?” Her voice caught.
“Yes,” I agreed passionately. “He didn’t even hesitate, Olivia. He was so fast and so good, but the daimon… was just faster.”
She blinked several times, and her lashes looked damp. “You know, he told me what happened in Gatlinburg. Everything you guys went through and how you got him out of the house.”
“It was luck. They—my mom and the others—started fighting. I didn’t do anything special.”
Olivia looked at me then. “He thought the world of you, Alex.” She paused, laughing quietly. “When we first started dating, I was jealous of you. It was like I couldn’t live up to everything you guys had together. Caleb really loved you.”
“I loved him.” I took a breath. “And he loved you, Olivia.”
Her smile was watery. “I guess I needed to blame someone. It could’ve been Lea, or the Guards who failed to keep the daimons out. I don’t know. It’s just that you’re this unstoppable force—you’re an Apollyon.” Springy curls bounced as she shook her head. “And—”
“I’m not an Apollyon, yet. But I get what you’re saying. I’m sorry.” I squeezed the wire on the notebook. “I just wish—”
“And I’m sorry.”
My head jerked toward her.
“It wasn’t your fault. And I was a total bitch to blame you. That day in the hallway, I wanted to apologize but it just all came out wrong. And I know that Caleb would hate me for blaming you. I shouldn’t have in the first place. I was just so hurt. I miss him so much.” Her voice cracked and she turned away, taking a deep breath. “I know those are just excuses, but I don’t blame you.”
Tears clogged my throat. “You don’t?”
Olivia shook her head.
I wanted to hug her, but wasn’t sure if that would be cool. Maybe it was too soon. “Thank you.” There was more I wanted to say, but I couldn’t find the right words.
Her eyes closed. “Want to hear something funny?”
I blinked. “Yeah.”
Turning to me, she grinned even though her eyes glistened with tears. “After the day you and Jackson had that fight, everyone was talking about it in the cafeteria. Cody was walking by and said something ignorant. I don’t remember what—probably something about how great being a pure-blood is.” She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, Lea got up all casually and dumped her entire plate of food on his head.” A giggle broke free. “I know I shouldn’t laugh, but I wished you’d seen that. It was hilarious.”
My mouth dropped open. “Seriously? What did Cody do? Did Lea get in trouble?”
“Cody threw a fit, calling us a bunch of heathens or something lame like that. I think Lea got written up and her sister wasn’t too happy with her.”
“Wow. That doesn’t sound like Lea.”
“She’s kind of changed.” Olivia sobered up. “You know, after everything? She’s not the same. Anyway, I have some stuff I need to do, but I’m… I’m glad we talked.”
I met her gaze and felt some of the tension leak away. It wouldn’t be like before, not for awhile. “Me, too.”
She looked relieved as she smiled. “See you in the cafeteria for lunch tomorrow?”
“Sure. I’ll be there.”
“I’m leaving for winter break next week with my mom. Some kind of Council business she has to attend to and she wants me to go with her, but when I get back, can we do something? Like maybe watch a movie or hang out?”
While mortals had winter break over the Christmas holiday, we had ours the entire month of February, in celebration of Anthesterion. Back in the old days, the festival was only three days and everyone pretty much got drunk in honor of Dionysus. It was like All Souls Night and Carnival rolled into one giant, drunken orgy. At some point the pures had extended the festival to an entire month, calmed it down, and filled it with Council sessions. Slaves and servants used to be able to participate, but that had also changed. “Yeah, that would be great. I’d love to.”
“Good. I’ll keep you to that.” Olivia got up to leave, but stopped at the door. Turning around, she gave me a small wave and a tentative smile before dipping out.
I glanced at my notebook. Some of the hurt and guilt that had lingered after Caleb’s death had lifted. I took a deep breath and scribbled a quick note to Laadan, telling her not to worry about the drink incident and thanking her for telling me about my father. Then I wrote two sentences under the brief paragraph.
Later that night, I sealed the letter and handed it over to Leon, who was hovering outside my dorm, with explicit instructions to give it to Aiden.
“May I ask why you’re passing notes to Aiden?” He eyed the letter like it was a bomb.
“It’s a love note. I’m asking him to circle ‘yes’ or ‘no’ if he likes me.”
Leon pinned me with a bland look, but shoved the letter in his back pocket. I gave him a cheeky grin before shutting the door. It felt like a semi-truck was lifted from my shoulders now that I’d written the letter. Spinning away from the door, I darted toward the computer desk. My bare toes smacked against something thick and heavy.
“Ouch!” Hopping on one leg, I looked down. “Oh, my gods, I am so stupid.”