I jolted awake as the car pulled to a stop. I sat up straight in my seat, looking around. It was still dark. We were still in the woods. The car had pulled up in front of an old cabin. It had a rustic porch hanging off the front of it, and I could see the hint of curtains in the windows pulled tight against the glass. “Where are we?”
Lilith was getting out of the car. “We’re in Virginia.”
“Virginia?” I said. “Isn’t that, like, the opposite direction of New York?”
“We had to go east to get to the interstate, anyway. And I was about to fall asleep too,” she said.
I didn’t move. “What is this place?”
“It’s my dad’s hunting cabin. No one will know we’re here.”
How did she figure that? “Your father owns a remote cabin, and you don’t think that’s the first place they’ll look for you?”
“My dad and mom split up when I was little,” Lilith said, opening the back seat of the car and tugging out a duffel bag. “My dad lives down in Charlottesville. He never comes up here anymore. I don’t even think my mother remembers it exists. Trust me, it’s fine.” She slung the bag over her shoulder.
I felt out of control. I didn’t like Lilith calling all the shots like this. Sighing, I got out of the car and followed her to the door of the cabin. She slid the welcome mat aside with one foot and swooped down to find a spare key which she’d uncovered. Then she opened the door. We went inside as she flicked on a light.
The front door opened onto a combined living room and kitchen. The kitchen was tiny and tucked into one corner. There was a small round table across from the refrigerator. In the living room area, a hideous floral couch was shoved against one wall, flanked by a plaid recliner. They faced an ancient television.
Lilith dropped her duffel bag on the couch. “I wonder if it’s worth turning the water on,” she said. “Do you think we’re going to want to take a shower or anything?”
“We sleep,” I said. “And we get moving again as soon as possible. I don’t like staying still here. It makes me feel nervous.”
“They’re not going to find us, Jason,” she said.
I surveyed the cabin again, wondering how defensible it would be in a siege. Of course, I didn’t even have a gun, did I? “The people from Bramford aren’t the only ones after me.”
She raised her eyebrows. “What?”
“Yeah, I kind of escaped from a militant secret society bent on making me into the leader of a global government.”
She collapsed onto the couch. “Really. Well, that’s great, Jason. Just great.”
I ran my hand through my hair. “I guess I should have told you.”
“You can go back, you know,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”
“Go back?” She laughed bitterly. “I screwed up their entire ritual. They’d eviscerate me.”
I made a face. “Really?”
“I’m exaggerating, but not that much.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “They might…they might have given up. I got a message from someone from my past. I think he meant that I was safe, but…I’m not sure if I’m still safe if I leave Bramford.”
She slouched on the couch. “Don’t worry about it. Everything’s crazy, anyway. Even if I’d known, I would have done the same thing. Ever since I met you, I couldn’t get my head around the idea of killing you. There’s something wrong with them if they all think it’s okay.”
I sat down in the recliner. “People shouldn’t kill other people,” I said softly.
“Exactly,” she said. “And especially not you. You’re too…pretty.”
I laughed in surprise. “Uh, thanks, I think.”
She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. “Why do you always get so weird when I give you a compliment?”
I shifted uncomfortably in the recliner. “You come on kind of strong, Lilith. It makes me feel really off balance.”
“I’m direct.” She nodded. “It’s my biggest downfall. I probably scare off any guy who’s actually worth my time. Everyone thinks I’m a slut, but I’m just…direct, you know? I figure why be coy about it? It’s easier if everyone’s honest.”
Maybe she had a point. “Honestly, I’m not very experienced with girls at all. I guess when you get direct like that, it makes me realize how completely out of it I actually am.”
She leaned back against the couch. “I really like you, Jason.”
“You don’t know me,” I said. “I don’t really know you either. We can’t know if we like each other.”
She smiled. “That sounds like an excuse to me.”
I didn’t say anything.
She patted a spot on the couch beside her. “Come sit next to me?”
Okay, so Lilith was clearly trying to seduce me. Which, by all rights, I should find awesome, shouldn’t I? All those years working with the Sons, with all their emphasis on celibacy, I’d fantasized about leaving the Sons and finding a girl and… Right. I got up and went over to sit next to her.
She grinned. “After all, we have to get to know each other, don’t we? Since, as you pointed out, we don’t know each other very well.”
I cleared my throat. “Sitting closer to each other wasn’t exactly what I meant.”
She put her hand on my knee and leaned in closer. She was still wearing her Halloween costume, and I wasn’t sure exactly what she was supposed to be dressed up as, but I did know that I could now completely see down her shirt. I sat there staring at the swell of Lilith’s breasts, and trying to remember why some part of me thought this was a bad idea. I couldn’t, especially since another part of me thought this was an awesome idea.
Her fingers slid up my leg, the way she’d touched me that morning. “Like what you see?” Her voice was breathy, excited.
I couldn’t talk. I made a noise in the back of my throat. It might have been affirmative or negative. Truth was, I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. I knew I was mesmerized, but what guy wouldn’t be mesmerized by a girl showing off half her body like that? She made it hard to think.
Lilith’s other hand crept up my shoulder. Her fingers danced over the bare skin of my neck, easing themselves into my hair.
“Lilith,” I managed.
“Uh huh,” she said, her face inching closer to mine.
My gaze shifted from her chest to her lips. This was freaking happening, wasn’t it? Shouldn’t I stop it? Didn’t I have to stop it? But why? There was some reason—
But she was closer now, her body pressing against mine, one of her hands tangled in my hair, the other gripping my thigh, and her lips came closer and closer to mine.
My eyes snapped shut.
I felt the barest brush of her lips.
And then the door opened.
Lilith vaulted off of me, and I leapt to my feet.
“I thought you said no one would find us here,” I said.
“No one should,” said Lilith.
The door swung the rest of the way open, and Azazel walked in. “It’s me,” she said. She was wearing the remains of her Vestal Virgin costume, which was ripped and dirty. One of the sleeves had been ripped off. Her shoulder was bare. I felt a twist in my chest, a longing to go to her, brush the wayward strands of hair out of her face and kiss her. It seemed so normal and natural. But it wasn’t. And I’d been about to kiss Lilith. Everything was suddenly so confusing. “Jude’s with me,” she continued, stepping out of the way so that we could see him behind her.
“What are you doing here?” Lilith said.
“I had to leave Bramford,” said Azazel. “Everyone’s gone crazy there.” Her lower lip trembled as if she might cry. “Did you know everyone in town is a Satanist?”
“Actually, yes,” said Lilith. “Why do you think we left? But I mean, why are you here, in this cabin?”
“You took me here once last summer. Don’t you remember?” Azazel said.
“I guess so.” Lilith looked really annoyed.
“Well, I remembered the spare key was under the mat, and Jude and I needed somewhere to go,” said Azazel. “So…”
I gave Jude a once over with my eyes. He was still wearing his pink t-shirt, but his makeup and fake eyelashes weren’t on anymore. I wasn’t particularly happy to see him here with Azazel, and I wasn’t sure exactly why that was. “Why’s Jude with you?”
Azazel’s shoulders sagged. “He saved me.” She made a beeline for the couch. “I have to sit down.”
“Saved you?” I said. I glared at Jude. Wasn’t that supposed to be my job? I turned to Lilith. “You said she was fine. You said she was the Vessel, and they wouldn’t hurt her.”
Jude shut the cabin door slowly. “They wanted her to complete some weird ritual. When I found her, Toby was trying to force her to…well, you know.”
I was horrified. I went to Azazel and sat next to her on the couch. I took one of her hands. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”
“You wanted to get busy with Toby,” said Lilith.
Azazel turned away. “Not like that.” Her eyes welled up. She looked gratefully at Jude. “Thank God Jude was there.”
Jude sat down next to Azazel too. He put his arm around her. She snuggled up against him, dropping my hand.
Thank God Jude was there? Things had gone incredibly wrong. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be practically making out with Lilith on a couch. And I knew that Azazel wasn’t supposed to be in Jude’s arms. I shook my head at Lilith. “I never should have let you convince me to leave.”
“I saved your life,” she snapped.
Azazel touched my hand again. “She’s right. They wanted to kill you. They’re furious that you’re gone. I’m glad you got away. I was worried about you.”
“I should have taken you with me,” I said.
“I’m okay,” she said. “Jude didn’t let anything happen. I’m freaked out is all.”
Lilith crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, I’m glad you’re safe, Azazel. And, as usual, everyone’s only interested in you.”
“She was nearly raped,” I said. “You don’t have to be a bitch.”
Lilith’s jaw dropped. “A second before she showed up, you were all over me. Now I’m a bitch?”
Azazel pushed away from Jude. “You were all over Lilith?”
I stared at the floor of the cabin, feeling wretched. But why? It wasn’t as if I owed Azazel anything. We weren’t together. I had every right on earth to make out with Lilith if I wanted. Except…I did feel ashamed.
“You don’t own him, you know,” Lilith said to Azazel. “He’s not your boyfriend.”
Azazel bit her lip. “No, I guess not.” She gave me a tentative smile. “If you like Lilith, that’s a good thing. She’s my best friend, and she deserves a good guy. I’m happy for you two.”
“It’s not like that,” I said to Azazel.
“Screw you, Jason,” said Lilith. She swept out of the living room in the cabin, went back a hallway and slammed a door.
It was quiet.
I squeezed my eyes shut and opened them again. Everything was completely screwed up.
Lilith had locked herself in the only bedroom in the house. It was late, so Azazel helped us find some blankets. She stretched out on the couch, while Jude and I gallantly argued about who should make the sacrifice of sleeping on the floor. Eventually, I let the pipsqueak have it and did my best to get comfortable in the recliner. There was a weird spring in the seat that kept digging into me no matter what I did. After a while, I began to think that Jude had the better deal.
But eventually, I fell asleep. In my dreams, there was a sharp, throbbing pain in my forehead. A woman’s voice was intoning, “Do you want your powers back?” over and over.
I must have only slept for a few hours. When I woke up, there was light coming in between the curtains in the cabin, and Azazel wasn’t on the couch anymore. Worried, I tossed the blanket I’d been using off and went looking for her. I found her on the porch of the cabin, wrapped in the blanket she’d been sleeping with. Her hair was messed up from sleeping, and the makeup she’d been wearing the night before was rubbed around her eyes, making her look tired and sad.
The desire to go to her was overwhelming. I didn’t fight it this time. I gathered her into my arms. She embraced me tightly, burying her face in my shirt. We stayed like that for a long time, and it felt right. Good. The way things were supposed to be.
Azazel finally said something, but I couldn’t understand, because her voice was muffled against my chest. I pulled back.
“What?” I asked.
“We aren’t supposed to be doing this,” said Azazel.
I made a confused face. “What are you talking about?”
“If we’re doing this, we’re putting everyone at risk,” she said. “I can’t explain it, but somehow I know that the two of us together is a very, very bad thing.”
That hurt. “But every time I see you, I want to be close to you. And when we hugged, right then, it felt different than practically everything else does. Everything else feels screwed up, but being with you feels right.”
“I know,” she said, looking out at the sun rising over the woods outside the cabin. “And I don’t think it’s going to be easy. But we can’t be together.”
I ran my fingers through my hair, feeling agitated. I wanted to be close to her again. I felt as if I were floundering without her. As if I were unable to swim, and clinging to her, I could break through to the surface and tread water. I clenched my hands in fists. “It wasn’t supposed to be Jude with you last night. He’s not even supposed to be here.”
“But he is here,” said Azazel. “And he helped me. I don’t think he’s really gay.” She sighed. “You were making out with Lilith—”
“Nothing really happened with me and Lilith. I didn’t even really want to do anything with her. She was only leaning over and touching me and—”
“Spare me the details, Jason.”
Azazel took a deep breath. “I’m only saying that maybe that’s our answer. We each have a replacement. Maybe we should get away from each other. And maybe over time, we’ll both forget about each other. Maybe that’s the right thing to do.”
“No way,” I said.
“I have this weird memory of a woman’s voice,” said Azazel. “She’s saying that together we’ll destroy the world. She keeps saying that both of us must die.”
“What if, together, we’re going to hurt people?” She turned her face to me. Her expression was fierce. “What if we’re going to kill people? Lots of people?”
My gaze shifted away from her. “I don’t want to kill anyone.”
“I don’t either.” She started for the door. “Apologize to Lilith. Let it play out.”
I stepped into her path, taking her by the shoulders. “I don’t want to let you go.”
She put a hand on my cheek. “Maybe you have to.”
This book is being posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning 1/17/2012. To access other chapters, check out the Onset Posts Archive, here.