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Battle not with monsters lest you become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you.
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
April 17, 1990
Professor Weem commented on my paper to the entire class today. He said it was the best discussion of ancient religions he'd seen in all his years as a teacher. All of the girls in class hate me even more than they did before. Everyone has a crush on Professor Weem. Even though I'm learning more here than I ever imagined, sometimes I just want to go home.
Above me, stained glass windows loomed in the darkness, fractured pictures, casting multi-colored bits of light over the wooden pews. Back when the Sol Solis School was first built, and it was a monastery, and this building was the church. Now we used it for assemblies and performances. I was lying back on one of the pews. My boyfriend Jason was kissing me.
I tried to pay attention to the softness of his lips, to the hard curves of his muscular chest against my body. But I couldn't help but stare up at the stained glass.
It was late at night. Jason and I had snuck out of our dormitories to meet each other here. Jason could pick locks and get us into pretty much any building on campus. Except the library, of course. Jason could have picked the lock without any problem. But the library was always guarded. It was frustrating, because the whole reason we'd come to the Sol Solis School was to get into that library.
Jason brushed a stray hair out of my face. He looked deep into my eyes. "Azazel?" he whispered.
"What?" I said, shifting uncomfortably on the wooden pew.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
I nodded. "Fine," I said, attempting to smile.
He kissed me again, closing his eyes. I tried to close mine, but they fluttered open again. I looked back up at the stained glass above me. We were making out in a church. A church. And we'd planned to come here to do more than make out. I eyed the stained glass suspiciously, feeling ill at ease.
As if in response to my thought, Jason eased his hand under my shirt, his fingers cold against my skin. I jumped.
Jason pulled away. He sat up. "You aren't into this, are you?" he asked.
I sat up too. "I'm into it," I said. And I was. Hadn't I been wanting to be with Jason for months?
"So, then how come you're so tense?" he asked.
"I'm not tense," I said.
Jason sighed. "Hey," he said, "I thought we promised to be honest with each other."
Jason had been brutally honest with me. He'd shared with me his darkest secret, something he'd never admitted to anyone. Something he'd barely admitted to himself. His mentor, Anton, had come to him one night, telling him that he'd found out things about Jason. That Jason wasn't the Rising Sun, or the messiah of the world, but actually a thing of evil. Anton had tried to kill Jason but Jason had killed him first. Jason had told himself over and over that it wasn't really his fault. That it was the fault of the Sons themselves, who'd made Anton believe in things like the Rising Sun or things of great evil power. But Jason had finally told me about it. He'd been honest. I owed it to him to be honest too. Still, this hardly compared. This wasn't some dark secret that I had. This was just something I was too uncomfortable to talk about.
Jason folded his arms over his chest.
I shot one more look up at the stained glass windows. "Well," I said, "we are in a church."
"It's not a church anymore," said Jason. "Besides, what are you afraid of? The wrath of God raining down on us or something?"
"No. Not exactly. But, you know, weird things do happen to us, Jason. Especially when we kiss."
Like driving a group of men absolutely insane. Or Jason coming back from the dead.
Jason laughed. "Yeah, okay, point," he said. "But I think we're okay here. No one comes in here at night. And it's been so long." He reached for me again.
I ducked out of his grasp, chewing on my lip.
"What?" he said. "What is it?"
I shook my head. "Nothing," I said.
Jason sighed. "Don't do that, Azazel. It's something. It's something or you wouldn't be trying to get away from me when I want to touch you."
"I'm not trying to get away from you!" I said. Honestly, I didn't know what was wrong with me. I wanted Jason. I did. I loved him more than life itself. And we hadn't been able to do more than hold hands since escaping from Shiloh two months ago. We'd been living with a group of monks in Rome most recently. Now we were attending the Sol Solis School, the same boarding school my younger brother Chance attended.
It was just that in the past couple months, everything had gotten so serious between Jason and me. Everything had been so focused on what we were trying to figure out. I'd almost forgotten about this part of our relationship. "Shouldn't we be focusing on how to get into that library?" I asked Jason.
"The library?" he said. "We are. We're trying to figure something out. But we've only been at school here for two weeks."
"I know that," I said. "But it's why we're here, isn't it?" Jason and I were trying to find some ancient documents on the history of the Rising Sun. We wanted to know why we'd been able to do the weird things we'd done when we were kissing. We wanted to know if we had supernatural powers.
Jason had been brought up to believe he was the Rising Sun, a savior of sorts for the human race. It was prophesied that he would unite the world under a global government and usher in an era of peace and prosperity. My Satanist family had groomed me as the Vessel of Azazel (a Jewish demon). My purpose had been to destroy Jason and stop him from uniting the world. Jason and I had fallen in love. I hadn't killed him. Ever since then, all kinds of very strange things had happened to us. We'd been chased by one organization or another across the United States. Finally, we'd taken refuge here in Italy. But we had questions, and it seemed that no one had any answers. We were hoping that the answers were here.
"It's not why we're here tonight," Jason said, gesturing at the walls of the old church. "We're here tonight to—"
"I know," I said, cutting him off. I took a deep breath and leaned in to kiss him.
His arms went around me, pulling me tight against him. His lips parted mine with his tongue. His fingers lightly stroked my back, the nape of my neck.
I pulled away again. "What if we tried to distract the guys who are guarding the library?" I said.
"You're really fixated on this library thing," said Jason.
"I'm not fixated," I said. "I'm determined. We're here for a reason, and I think we should do our best to try and make sure we follow it through."
"How do you propose we distract them?" Jason asked. "Treat them like dogs and throw them a big juicy steak?"
"No," I said. "One of us could pretend to be hurt. Or we could say that someone had been hurt."
"They'd just radio someone else to take care of it," said Jason. "You know all of the guards carry around walkie-talkies."
The Sol Solis School had pretty heavy security, and not just because children of the most wealthy and influential people in the world attended it. The Sol Solis School was an institution sponsored by the Sons of the Rising Sun, a secret society. They housed their secrets in that library. They didn't want to let anyone in. Especially not Jason or me, if they knew who we were.
"I could flash them," I said.
"Great," said Jason. "You're offering to show your breasts to complete strangers, but you won't even let me hold you."
I looked away.
Jason touched my arm. "What's going on?" He sounded concerned. "Is everything okay? Are you mad at me?"
"No," I said. What was going on? Why was I being like this? "We haven't been together like that since Bradenton."
"That's true," said Jason.
"Since before Lilith," I said. Immediately, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my chest. That was it! That was why I was upset.
"Lilith?" Jason reached for my chin and turned my face so that I was facing him. "Is this about Lilith?"
"You don't still think that something happened between me and Lilith, do you?"
I shook my head.
"Are you sure? Because I told you nothing happened. She tried to get me to do something, but I didn't. You know that, right?"
"It's not about that."
"So then what is it about?"
I looked down at the wooden pew between us. At the whirls in the wood grain. "She said things," I said.
"Like what?" Jason wanted to know.
Now that I'd started to talk about it, I really didn't want to. "Never mind."
"Not never mind. Tell me what you're talking about."
How could I even put this? "She said things about being . . . pleased."
Jason looked confused. "Pleased? When?"
"I overheard that conversation you were having. You remember. When she tried to seduce you."
Jason furrowed his brow in confusion. "I don't remember anything about . . ." He paused for a second, a different expression taking over his face. "Oh," he said.
I inspected my fingernails, feeling my face heat up. I was glad it was dark, and Jason couldn't see that I was blushing.
"I didn't believe anything she had to say," said Jason. "I know that we're . . . that you're . . . she was just trying to make me think that you were cheating on me with Jude."
"Right," I said. "That's all she was doing. So it doesn't matter what she said."
"Well, it wasn't true anyway," said Jason. He looked at me. "Was it?"
I hesitated. I didn't know how to talk about this. I'd never known how to talk about this. "Look, let's just forget it," I said. "I don't want to talk about it anymore."
"Oh," said Jason. "So it is true?"
Flustered, I stood up, folding my arms and shrugging. "What's true?"
Jason floundered. "Well, she said that you weren't . . . satisfied."
I shook my head quickly. "No," I said. "I am. I'm totally satisfied. I love you, and everything we do is amazing. I'm very, very satisfied."
"Yeah," said Jason, "but I don't think that's what she meant."
"Let's just drop it," I said.
"You brought it up."
"I don't know why I did."
Jason stood up too. He touched my shoulder. "I told you before," he said softly, "I don't know what I'm doing."
"Yes you do," I said. "You're wonderful. Besides, it's not your fault, anyway. It's like she said, she had to show . . ." I couldn't continue. My face was on fire. "This is just too embarrassing."
"Hey," Jason said, "you don't have to be embarrassed. It's me. Besides, we said no more secrets. If you're thinking about this, I want to know."
"I just worry that what she said is true. That if I can't do that, then you'll think that I don't appreciate you. And I don't want you to think—"
"No," he said, "this isn't about me. This is about you."
"I know," I said. "There's got to be something wrong with me, right? I mean, shouldn't it have happened already?"
"Well," said Jason, "and keep in mind that I haven't spent a large part of my life listening to locker room talk or having many friends that were my own age. From what I understand, though, it's, like, harder for girls to . . ." He laughed. "Okay, well, I'm embarrassed too."
I giggled nervously.
"There's nothing wrong with you," said Jason, "but I think I must be doing something wrong."
"No," I said, "no, I don't think so. I mean, everything's working okay for you."
"But it's not working for you."
"So, then why are we talking about this?"
"I just wanted to make sure that you knew I appreciated you, that's all. And I wanted to tell you that I was . . . I don't know . . . that something was wrong with me, and I didn't know if you—"
"Stop it, Azazel. There's nothing wrong with you."
I plopped back down on the pew.
Jason sat down next to me. "Look," he said, "if you told me what to do, you know I would do anything you wanted. I want you to be happy. I want—"
"I don't know what you should do!" I interrupted him. "I don't know how to do it. And that's what Lilith said. She said she had to show guys what to do. And I don't know what to do."
Jason absorbed this for a few seconds. "Okay," he said finally. "So, we'll figure it out then. We'll just try stuff."
I bit my lip. "You think that will work?"
He grinned. "It's sex, Azazel. Cavemen could do it. It can't be that hard to figure out."
I tried to smile.
Jason kissed me again. I tried to just let myself melt into him, to concentrate on nothing but his lips. Eventually, however, I pulled away. "I'm just not really in the mood," I muttered.
Jason didn't say anything for a while. Finally, he said, "Okay."
"I'm not mad," said Jason. He kissed my forehead. "We've got time," he whispered. "We've got our whole lives."
My roommate Palomino was crying in the bathroom when I got back to my dorm. Palomino was the daughter of an American senator. She was also my brother Chance's girlfriend. As was the plight of the children of the incredibly rich, she'd been stuck with a totally weird first name. She was cool, though, despite the fact that she was actually dating my dork of a baby brother. Chance was fifteen and so was Palomino. They'd met when Chance lived with my grandmother in New Jersey. Chance and Palomino had claimed they were "just friends" for months before finally admitting they were girlfriend and boyfriend.
When Jason and I had first realized that the information we were looking for about the Sons and the Rising Sun prophecies were all housed in the Sol Solis School, we didn't have any idea how we were going to get in. The monks we were staying with—the Order of Reddimus—didn't have any connection with the Sons. The Sons themselves had broken off from the Order of Reddimus back in the Renaissance, but that was hundreds of years ago. The organizations no longer had any ties.
Chance and Palomino had really helped us out. Since they both attended the school, they knew the ins and outs of it. They told us which of the people who worked in admissions were total space cadets and would let two seniors into the school two months before graduation. They told us how to make sure we got assigned to room with them. Chance and Jason shared a dorm across campus. I roomed with Palomino.
The only thing the Order of Reddimus really had been helpful with was money. The Catholic Church was willing to throw tons of money at us, considering we were working to overthrow the Sons. The Church hated the Sons. They were their biggest enemy on earth.
Our tuition was paid for, and we didn't have to live with strangers. Plus, this was a good school. I was ridiculously behind on my studies, considering this was the third high school I'd attended during my senior year. Jason was a freaking genius, so he wasn't having any trouble. Palomino and Jason were both helping me study, so I was glad of the assistance.
I knocked tentatively on the door of the bathroom, which was a heavy, old door, made of dark oak, and engraved with ornate decorations. "Palomino," I called. "Are you okay?"
Only the muffled sound of sobs came through the door. I looked around at our dorm room. For a high school dorm, it was a pretty nice room. Quite big. Unlike most dorm rooms, rooms in our building—Bianchi Hall—didn't have rooms that looked like cookie cutter images of each other. Each room had a little bit of character. Our room had two large windows on the far wall and a small sort of L-shaped alcove where our closet was. Like all dorms in Bianchi, our bathroom was off our dorm room.
Some students' parents paid enough for private rooms, but Palomino's apparently wanted her to learn what it was like to live with another person. They said it was a social skill. As for me—the Catholic Church was being generous, but not that generous.
I tried the door handle. It was unlocked. "Can I come in?" I asked.
Palomino didn't answer.
When I entered the bathroom, I saw her sitting on the green tile floor, her head between her knees. Her shoulders were shaking from the force of her sobs.
I knelt down next to her, concerned. "What's wrong?" I asked.
She still didn't answer. I put my hand on her back and patted it gently. "Mina," I said softly, using her nickname. "Talk to me. Is it Chance? Was my brother a total dickhead to you?"
"I broke up with Chance," she said, hiccupping and raising her face to look at me. Her eyes were puffy and red, but she was still a really pretty girl. Her long white-blonde hair cascaded over her shoulders. My brother was a lucky guy. Well. He had been, anyway.
"What?" I said. "Why'd you break up?"
"I just don't want to see him anymore," she said, rubbing her eyes with the heels of hands.
"What did he do?" I asked.
"Nothing," said Palomino.
Really? "Okay," I said. "So why'd you break up with him?"
"It's not him, it's me," she said, standing up and going to the sink.
"Um," I said, getting up behind her, "that line might work when you're dumping your boyfriend, but it doesn't work when you're explaining it to your friends."
Palomino surveyed herself in the mirror, making a face at her reflection. "I'm fine," she said. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Come on," I said. "You're upset. Anyone can see that."
She shrugged and splashed water on her face.
I came closer, leaning on one side of the sink. "Look," I said, "I know my brother is not always the politest or even nicest guy ever. I grew up with him, remember? But I know he likes you. He really, really likes you—"
"He won't, though," said Palomino. "He won't when he finds out. This way, it's a clean break. I did it first." She swept out of the bathroom, collapsing on her bed in the bedroom.
I followed her. "Finds out what?" I asked, sitting down on my bed, which was opposite hers.
Palomino pulled a pillow over her head.
I sat back. "I can't imagine that anything you did would make him like you less," I said. "You're a really awesome girlfriend."
She pulled her head out from underneath the pillow. "I'm an idiot."
"No," I said, "you're not."
"It was my idea," she said. "I told him it would be okay. In health class at my old high school, they said it would be okay. You're not supposed to be able to when you're on your period."
I furrowed my brow, a niggling suspicion running through me. "Palomino," I said, "did you and Chance have sex?"
She looked at me like I was an idiot. "We've been having sex," she told me. "Since before I came to this school."
Really? "But Chance said you weren't his girlfriend," I said. "Back when you were hanging out in New Jersey. He said you guys weren't dating. You were having sex then?" This was kind of blowing my mind. Chance was my younger brother after all.
"I knew I was coming here for spring semester," she said. "I didn't want to get attached."
"So you were just randomly hooking up with my brother?" I demanded.
Palomino rolled her eyes. "Azazel, you're such a prude. You wouldn't understand. Never mind." She buried her face in her pillow.
The furrow in my brow deepened. I lay back on my bed, staring at the ceiling. "I'm not a prude," I said. Of course, I had just skipped out on my chance to have sex with my boyfriend. My first chance in months. Was I a prude?
"You've only had sex with Jason, right?" said Palomino.
"How many people have you had sex with?" I asked.
"Three," she said.
"Really?" I said. Palomino was fifteen. How did you fit three boyfriends into fifteen years? When had she started having sex? When she was twelve? "It doesn't make me a prude, because I've only had sex with one guy."
"Whatever," said Palomino, "and I'm sure you guys are always super careful. You probably make him wear two condoms."
"Just one," I said. "And I don't make him do it. We've just always . . ." Truthfully, Jason and I never talked about the condoms. He always had them. I sat back up and fixed Palomino with my gaze. "What are you saying? Are you saying you haven't been careful?"
Palomino didn't look up from her pillow. Her voice was muffled. "I'm pregnant, Azazel."
Jason was scrubbing at the blood on his hands. He stood over the sink, the water rushing over them from the faucet. I stood in the doorway, watching him.
"Where did the blood come from?" I asked him.
He turned off the faucet, flinging his wet hands once, so that water spattered against the sink. It was pink with blood.
He came to me, holding his hands out to touch me.
I backed away. "Where did the blood come from, Jason?" I asked.
Jason advanced on me.
I backed into the closed door behind me. I fumbled for the doorknob behind my back.
Jason was coming for me, blood dripping from his hands and fingers, dripping onto the floor, red like roses. The blood was all over his hands. All over his arms. Smeared on his white t-shirt.
"I don't like it when you come home covered in all this blood," I whispered, still trying to turn the doorknob behind me.
It was locked.
Jason stopped in front of me. He put his hands on my cheeks.
I pushed him away. "I don't want the blood on me," I said.
"But it's your blood," said Jason.
"No, it's not," I said.
"It is," said Jason. "Come here and see our beautiful baby."
"What?" I said. "What are you talking about?"
I looked down at myself. I was naked from the waist down. My thighs were covered in smears of deep red blood. And now, suddenly, I could feel it. It felt like something had clawed its way out of my uterus. There was nothing between my legs but tatters of skin. I collapsed onto the bathroom floor, cold green tile against my skin.
Behind the shower curtain, something screamed.
Jason smiled at me. He pulled aside the curtain of the shower with a presentational flair, like he was a showman at a circus. "Isn't he beautiful?" he said.
Behind the shower curtain, a long black worm-like shape slithered over the lip of the bathtub. Its sharp teeth glinted in the lights. Pieces of my flesh still clung to it. Wherever it slid, it left a trail of blood.
I backed away, backed into the door again, shaking my head, muttering, "No. No."
"He's our baby," said Jason.
"No," I said.
"Yes," said Jason.
"No," I said. I stumbled to my feet. "It has to die," I said, lunging for the worm-shaped thing, ready to strangle it.
"Stop!" cried Jason.
And I woke up.
It was dark in the dorm room and quiet. Quiet the way it is in the morning before the sun comes up. Still. Peaceful.
But my heart was beating out of my chest.
I'd been having bad dreams—nightmares—ever since Jason and I escaped my crazy Satanist family in Bramford, WV last fall. Recently, however, they'd started to get much, much worse. I had one nearly every night. Sometimes more than one. They never made much sense. Sometimes they had a basis in things that had happened. For instance, this one was clearly an amalgamation of Palomino's news and the time Jason had come home in Bradenton covered in blood. And maybe it had something to do with the fact that I wasn't quite sure if Jason and I weren't . . . evil.
Jason's own mother had tried to get me to kill him. She'd had visions. Visions in which Jason did horrible things.
What if my dreams were like visions? What if . . .
I tried to calm down. Monitor my breathing so that my heart would slow down. It wouldn't help anything to think like that. People didn't have visions of the future.
At least I didn't think so.
Sometimes, though, Jason was so violent. I tried not to think about it, because nothing had happened in quite some time. But I'd watched Jason shoot his own mother in the head.
He'd been protecting me.
He'd never talked about it.
The things that I thought about when I woke up from the dreams were sometimes worse than the dreams themselves. I didn't like the dreams, and I didn't like thinking about whether or not Jason was too violent. I didn't like thinking about it at all.
There was only one thing that worked to keep it all at bay, and I'd been so caught up in listening to Palomino tell me about being pregnant that I hadn't bothered with it before bed. Not like I usually did.
It was dark. It was quiet. And my bed was warm. I didn't particularly want to get up.
But I wanted to turn my brain off, and I only knew one way to do that. I climbed out of bed and knelt beside it. Feeling under my mattress, my fingers brushed the cold metal of my gun. It was good to know it was there, but it wasn't what I was looking for.
Instead, I slid out a glass bottle of vodka.
It was easy to buy liquor in Italy, even though I wasn't technically quite old enough to purchase it. The drinking age was lower in Europe. I never had problems. And it wasn't like I was buying it to party. It was like medicine.
I gulped the burning liquid down my throat, feeling the oblivion rush into my temples.
I had a headache. I always had a headache. Drinking as much liquor as I did every night before bed (or in last night's case, in the middle of the night) tended to make me pretty much constantly hung over. I sat in my morning class, bleary-eyed, barely listening to Professor Moretti's lecture on Post-Colonialism. I'd been through various approaches to education my senior year of high school. The first had been honors classes in the West Virginia public school system. Then general classes in the Florida public school system. Finally, here I was, finishing out my high school career in a posh, English-language private school in Europe. The approaches all had some things in common, but here at the Sol Solis School, the emphasis was on lecture. I came to class. Professors talked at me. I took notes. Later there was a test. It was the most challenging program I'd ever taken part in.
In my pocket, my phone vibrated.
Looking around to make sure Professor Moretti wasn't looking, I eased the phone out of my pocket and eyed the text message Jason had sent me.
"whats up w/c and p?" it said.
Careful not to look down at the phone too much, I quickly texted back: "what did chance say to u?"
I made a show of scribbling down something on my notebook paper, waiting until my phone vibrated again before looking at it.
"p broke up w/ him? she say why?"
I chewed on my lip, considering. Jason and I had made a pact not to keep secrets from each other, but this wasn't my secret. Last night, Palomino had made it clear to me that she didn't want Chance to know. She was convinced that Chance would leave her if he found out. Apparently, she'd been sort of seeing a guy before Chance had transferred in the early spring. She hadn't had sex with the guy, but Chance didn't believe that. Palomino was sure that Chance would blame the baby on someone else. I told her my brother wasn't like that.
At any rate, I didn't think Palomino wanted her business blabbed to anyone, not even Jason. I trusted Jason, but since he was living with Chance, it would be really hard for him not to want to tell his own roommate. Still, I didn't think Palomino should keep this to herself for too long.
Conflicted, my fingers hovered over the keys of my phone.
"Ms. Smith," said Professor Moretti.
I didn't look up at first. My name was Jones. But we were undercover at the Sol Solis School and we weren't using our real names. I was going by Amy Smith. My head snapped up.
Professor Moretti was standing right next to my desk. He could see that I was texting.
I blushed and shoved the phone back into my pocket. "Sorry," I mumbled.
Professor Moretti looked concerned. "Ms. Smith," he said kindly, "you really need to heed your studies. Your grades can't afford distractions like this." He was referring to the D I'd gotten on my last test. I couldn't help that I wasn't studying so much. What with nightmares, hangovers, and trying to figure out a way into the library, I was distracted. School didn't seem so important anymore.
I looked down at my desk, ashamed.
Professor Moretti moved on. "The next chapter of Things Fall Apart for tomorrow, then," he addressed the class.
Around me, students began to gather their belongings. Shove their notebooks into book bags. Stand up. A low buzz of chatter started to fill the classroom. The class was over. I didn't move for a few seconds. The noise was making my head pound.
Slowly, I stood up and began picking up my own stuff.
Jason appeared beside my desk, his book bag already slung over his shoulder. "Sorry," he said.
I shook my head. "I should have kept my eye out for Moretti."
"No," said Jason, "it was my fault. And I shouldn't distract you in class, anyway."
Way to rub it in. Jason had, of course, gotten an A on the test. "Right," I said. "Your stupid girlfriend needs to concentrate, or she'll flunk out of school."
He kissed my forehead. "Don't be silly," he said, taking my hand as we left the classroom and spilled into the hallway with the other students. "I just already know this stuff. When people think you're the messiah, they cram your head full of all kinds of useless knowledge."
I elbowed him. "Shh. Don't say that stuff so loud. Someone might hear."
He tickled my ribs. "Paranoid Azazel," he teased.
"Don't say my name either," I hissed.
"You're in a bad mood," he said. "Did you drink last night again?"
"No," I said. "I forgot. I had a dream that we had a monster for a baby, and it ate its way out of my body."
Jason made a face. "Eew," he said.
I shrugged. "So then I downed half a bottle of vodka at like four in the morning."
We made our way out of Rossi Hall and into the bright, spring day. Outside, other students like us walked in groups of two or three across the sprawling campus. They wound through old brick buildings that had been standing for hundreds of years. Jason and I were heading towards the dining hall for lunch. We usually met up with Palomino and Chance. I wondered how that was going to work out today.
Jason shook his head. "I don't think it's good for you to drink so much."
"And the nightmares? Are they good for me?"
"I just worry about you. You know that."
I did know. I squeezed his hand. "I'm okay."
We walked without speaking for a few moments.
"You don't ever have bad dreams?" I asked him. "After everything you've seen?"
He shrugged. "Used to," he said. "A long time ago. After the sorority house. But not so much anymore."
The Sons had assigned Jason and a man named Hallam, who we used to live with in Florida, to kill a house full of sorority girls. They'd told them the girls were running a brothel, but that had probably been a lie. No one really knew, because they were dead. Jason hadn't done any of the actual killing, but the night had scarred him deeply.
"So, you think it'll get better?" I asked.
"Maybe we should take you to a doctor. Like a psychiatrist or something."
"I didn't mean that you were crazy or anything," he added hastily.
"We both need loads of therapy," I told him. "And we won't be getting it any time soon. Let's just find a way into this library and figure out what we need to know."
Jason stopped walking, looking thoughtful. I stopped too.
"Then what?" he said.
"What do you mean?"
"What if we find out that I actually am the Rising Sun? What if we find out that collectively we're going to bring about the end of the world? What do we do then?"
I didn't say anything. After a few seconds, I started walking again. I didn't look back to see if Jason was catching up.
I spotted Palomino standing in front of the dining hall, hugging herself. Chance was nowhere to be seen. I half-waved at her, and she waved back. As I walked over to her, Jason fell into my stride next to me. Out of habit, I reached for his hand, and he took mine.
"Hey Mina," I said.
"Hey," she said.
"Why'd you break up with Chance?" said Jason.
I elbowed him. Did he have no tact?
Palomino swung around to face Jason, her eyes welling up with tears.
I dropped Jason's hand and touched her shoulder. "You okay?"
She shook her head. "I couldn't make it through my last class. I started crying, and I had to leave. Everyone saw."
"Wait," said Jason. "Are you upset about breaking up with Chance? Because he's out of his mind, okay? He was freaked out when I got back to the dorm last night. What's going on with you two?"
"Jason," I said.
"No," he said. "Look, if you both still like each other, and you're both sad that you aren't together, you should get back together."
"Chance is a jealous dick," said Palomino. She turned on her heel and stalked into the dining hall.
Jason went after her, and I followed Jason. "Is this about that guy you were seeing? What was his name, Skylar or something?"
Skylar. Another rich kid doomed to a weird name.
"Because," Jason continued, "Chance is really sorry he said anything. And he totally trusts you."
Palomino whirled. "I don't want to talk about it, okay?" She thrust the door open to the dining hall.
Jason stopped and looked at me. "You should back me up here," he said. "He's your brother."
"It's complicated," I said.
Jason rolled his eyes. "Whatever," he said. "It's always complicated with girls."
A line to the serving area had already formed. Jason and I got in line behind Palomino. We got through the line quickly and sat down at our regular table. Jason and I looked at Chance's usual seat. It was empty.
"Where's Chance?" I asked Jason. It didn't seem fair that he had to find another seat.
Jason shrugged. "Don't know." He turned to Palomino. "You know," he said, "Azazel and I had some issues with jealousy. She thought I was sleeping with her best friend."
I glared at him. "And you thought I was sleeping with a gay guy."
"He wasn't actually gay," Jason pointed out. To Palomino, "He was actually my brother, and he tried to kill me."
He did kill Jason. At least, he put a bullet in Jason's skull. Jason stopped breathing His heart stopped beating. Until I kissed him.
My life was too weird.
"Anyway," said Jason, "the point is that we worked through that. We talked about how we felt. And we're still together."
Palomino sighed. "I don't want to talk about this, okay?"
"Why not?" said Jason. "What did Chance do?"
She glared at him. "Did Chance put you up to this?"
"No," said Jason, but he didn't meet her eyes.
"I don't want to talk to him," she said. "It's over. Just tell him it's over."
"Mina," I said, "are you sure you shouldn't just talk to Chance about—"
She shot me a murderous look. I shut my mouth. I'd promised not to say anything. But this was huge. My younger brother had fathered a child. And his girlfriend wouldn't tell him. How was I supposed to keep this to myself?
To distract myself, I looked around the dining hall. It was a big, open room with high ceilings. Long tables lined the room. I spotted the Weem twins, Faruza and Fairie (more hapless victims of rich people's wacky ideas of names), sauntering across the dining hall. I didn't feel sorry for the Weem twins, despite their names, however. They were awful gossips who were always rude to me. They picked on pretty much everyone except people who had the right last names. People who were related to members of the Council of the Sons.
Since their uncle, Edgar Weem, had stepped down from his post at the Council, the Weem twins had gotten even meaner. They seemed to resent the fact that their uncle had been demoted, as if it threatened their social status. They walked by our table, casting withering glances in our direction. I seethed, imagining how satisfying it would be to let them know that Jason was actually their cousin, since Edgar Weem was his father.
Faruza stopped next to our table, holding her tray and looking down at us. "So, Mina," she said. "I heard about the nervous breakdown in class today. I'm so sorry." She sounded about as sorry as Hitler was for killing Jews.
Palomina glowered at her. "Thanks, Faruza," she said. "You're always so concerned and kind."
Faruza smirked. "So is it true that you found out your skuzzy adopted boyfriend gave you herpes? Because I hear that's what you get when you date Jersey trash."
"Chance isn't even from New Jersey," I said. I couldn't help it. The Weem twins just pissed me off so much.
Faruza turned to me as if she'd noticed me for the first time. "Was I talking to you?" she asked.
"I don't know," I said. "I think you were leaving, actually, weren't you?"
"Because God knows where you and your boyfriend came from. You're probably charity cases. At least, he's definitely performing some kind of charity by dating something that looks like you."
Jason's jaw twitched. "Don't talk to her like that," he said.
"Ooh," said Faruza, "I guess I struck a nerve."
Faruza's boyfriend, George Churchill (victim of being named after his super rich grandfather), slid in behind her, one arm snaking around her waist. "Hey babe," he said. "You gonna waste your whole lunch here?"
She smiled up at him. "Just catching up," she said.
"Actually," said Jason, "she was insulting my girlfriend."
George shot me a look. "She'd be kind of hard to compliment, wouldn't she?"
Jason stood up, knocking over his chair. "You should really reconsider that statement."
I watched his fist, clenching and unclenching at his side.
Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers