home blog bio myspace facebook store


Listen to the Tortured playlist by clicking here

episode seven

Chapter Seven

April 30, 1990

Oh my God. Oh my God. He kissed me.

Well, at first, I told him what I was thinking. About the fact that he was of the Weem line and that he could easily be the father of the Rising Sun. And that I could, you know, be the mother. And he laughed at me.

When he realized I was serious, he was mostly just angry. There was no way. He'd taken vows of celibacy, and I was just a kid. But I'm eighteen, and I know what I want.

We argued for a long time. And then suddenly, he just grabbed me by the shoulders. And he said, "Dear God, you know there is a part of me that wants this more than anything." And then. He kissed me.

I think I'm in love with him.

"Azazel!" yelled Jason.

Wait. Why wasn't Jason running with me? Why hadn't I waited for Jason?

I paused on the steps. Turned. Jason was at the bottom of the steps.

"It's the Sons!" I said.

"It's the Brothers," he said.

I made a confused face. What was the difference, really? The Brothers were the branch of the Sons that did all the dirty work. Jason had described them as Freemasons with guns or a cross between Jesuits and James Bond.

"I think it's okay," Jason said. "Come back down."

I hesitated.

"I'll make sure you're okay," said Jason.

I started back down the steps.

When Jason and I reemerged into the stone room, all of the men were on their knees, their heads bowed, including Moretti. I clutched my forehead with one hand. "So they're like worshipping you now?" I asked Jason.

Moretti stood up. "Respecting," he corrected. "Both of you."

This was weird. I looked at Moretti. "Can you tell them to get up?"

"Tell them yourself," said Moretti. "They are here to serve you."

I shot a look at Jason. He made a face at me. "Uh," he said. "On your feet."

The black clad men all stood up. They crowded around us, beaming at us expectantly. There were so many of them. They didn't all fit in the room. Some of them were spilling back into the hallway. What were they? What were they doing here?

"These men," said Moretti, as if reading my mind, "are true believers. Defectors from the Sons. They don't agree with Hoyt's edict that you are not the Rising Sun. They refused to be part of a plan to kill you."

Well, that was nice anyway, even if it was creepy. "Thanks for not killing Jason," I said, trying to smile.

"They've been arriving here, once I was sure that the two of you were who I thought you were," said Moretti. "We're here to assist you in any way we can. We already took care of a problem for you. In the basement of the assembly hall."

"You killed Jude?" asked Jason.

"Indeed," said Moretti. "And disposed of the body."

"You know," I said, "the thing is, we weren't sure if we were going to kill him yet."

"May I speak?" asked one of the Brothers.

Moretti turned to us.

"Uh, sure," said Jason.

"I was there," he said. "In Shiloh, when he shot you. I carried him off that night, while he was screaming that he would stop at nothing to see you dead. If it had been up to me, I would have killed him right then. Trust me when I say that one would have caused you nothing but harm."

I didn't know what to say. I looked at Jason, but he was looking down at the ground. I tried another smile at the Brother. "Well, thanks, then," I said. "We're, um, not really used to having anyone look out for us." And, I added silently, I'm not sure if I really think these guys are doing that exactly.

Jason looked up. "Yes," he said, nodding. "Thank you all."

The Brothers all smiled, like they'd just been thanked by God himself. I grabbed Jason's hand. I wasn't sure I really liked any of this.

Moretti held up his hand again. "If you all could leave us now. We have things to discuss."

The men scurried out. Moretti folded his arms over his chest. I inched closer to Jason. He let go of my hand and put his arm around my waist. He pulled me against him. I looked up at him. He gazed down at me reassuringly.

"Well," said Moretti, "it would appear that it doesn't exactly matter whether you think you're the Rising Sun or not. They do."

"Yeah," said Jason, "I guess they do. But, you know, I've grown up surrounded by people who thought I was the Rising Sun. Excuse me if that doesn't exactly completely change my mind."

"I thought you might say something like that," said Moretti. "And I could simply say that whatever your beliefs were, you had a responsibility to those men, and also a responsibility to me. Which I think is true. However, I think I can offer you some more convincing evidence. Follow me."

He took off through the doorway.

"You know," Jason called after him, "I've heard all the prophecies already."

Moretti stopped and turned. "Not prophecies exactly, Jason." He gestured around him at the stone walls. "This place used to be your father's study, you know."

The room seemed a little more comfortable than the big stone room we'd been in before. It was smaller. It had carpets on the floors and a couch along one wall. There were stacks of old books lining the walls. Moretti settled into a chair at a paper-covered desk, and gestured for us to sit down on the couch.

We sat down gingerly.

Moretti chuckled. "You look so much like your mother, Jason. She was brilliant. I still remember some of the essays she wrote for me." He looked at me. "Your essay on Things Fall Apart almost reminds me of them."

"Yeah, well, she wasn't my mother," I said. But I had to admit I was a little confused. Michaela Weem had been brilliant? And Moretti had read her essays?

"Your mother attended the Sol Solis School," said Moretti.

Jason shrugged. "Yeah, well, she did say she went to school in Europe. Can we stop calling her my mother? Michaela Weem is fine with me."

"Her name was Aird when I knew her," said Moretti. "She was a bright, eager student. She had so much potential."

"Right," said Jason, "until Edgar Weem got a hold of her."

Moretti shook his head. "I don't think you quite understand, Jason. Ted—Edgar—was a colleague of mine at the time. He taught Philosophy and Mythology. He and I spent a great deal of time together in those days. We were friends."

"You aren't anymore?" I asked. I couldn't help it.

"Ted went on to greater things than I did," Moretti said, shrugging. "The Council. A high position in the Sons. I stayed here. Of course, he couldn't very well have continued working here. Not after the business with Michaela. There were suspicions at that point that something untoward had happened."

"Well, something had, hadn't it?" I asked.

"Michaela told us all about it," Jason said, looking sullen. He stood up. "Azazel, we don't have to stay here. We can go."

There it was again. Jason wasn't the least bit interested in his family. Why not? "Aren't you slightly curious?" I asked.

He shot a look at Moretti and then brought his eyes back to me. "Maybe," he said. "Maybe a little." He sat back on the couch. "So people thought that my dad was a jerk and didn't want him teaching teenagers anymore?"

"Ted was a very good-looking man back then," said Moretti.

"So what?" I said. The way Michaela had described it, Edgar Weem had raped her, repeatedly, and forced her to do all manner of disgusting things, like drink bull semen. What did being good looking have to do with that?

"Michaela wasn't exactly unwilling to participate in his experiments," said Moretti. "Ted was a very popular professor, quite adored by the female population. I rather suspected it was a point of personal satisfaction for her. She seemed quite taken with him."

"Yeah," I said, "but when we talked to her, she described him as vile, didn't she?"

"She also said I was an abomination," said Jason. "You know I've never really believed a word that came out of her mouth. Go ahead, Professor. What were these experiments? What did my father do and why?"

Moretti smiled. "Well, I don't know all the details. I wasn't involved in them. For obvious reasons, Ted felt they were private. But I do know that when he first started teaching here, I had the opportunity to engage in many conversations with him about the nature of the Rising Sun. It's always been a hotly contested issue within the Sons. For many years, it seems that there were two separate camps of thought. One school of thought held that the idea of the Rising Sun was simply a metaphor—that it referred to a period of time when the world would change significantly. Another school of thought was convinced that the Rising Sun was literally a person. That he would return to us like a dying god out of a myth.

"Now," Moretti continued, getting up and crossing the room to take a book off a shelf, "I had always been firmly in the camp with those who looked at the Rising Sun as a metaphor. I knew that the official position of the Council was that the Rising Sun was definitely a person, and that they were even on the lookout for him, but I had never seriously considered the idea. I'm a scholar, not a mystic, and I wasn't about to be convinced of something that I thought was so ludicrous."

I chewed on my lip, trying to let this sink in. Brother Mancini had said something like this, hadn't he? That the Sons hadn't been pursuing the Rising Sun mythos until the past few hundred years? "So, you're saying that the Rising Sun stuff might all just be metaphorical? That maybe there is no Rising Sun?"

"No," said Moretti. "I'm saying that's what I believed before I met Ted." He handed the book he was holding to Jason. "However, Ted showed me this."

Jason opened the book. It was very old. The pages were crumbly around the edges. The interior was in a language I couldn't understand. "Is this in Latin?" asked Jason. He turned to the title page. Then he looked up at Moretti. "A book about King Arthur?" he said. "Are you kidding?"

"Not just any book about King Arthur," said Moretti. "This is a book that traces the genealogy of the historical King Arthur."

"Hold up," I said. "King Arthur is a myth. He wasn't real."

"He was certainly real," said Moretti. "His name might not have been Arthur, however. He is known chiefly to historical records by his title Riothamus, a Latinization of a Brythonic word meaning 'king-most,' or high king."

"Yeah, yeah," said Jason. "I've heard that theory. But there are at least five others, all with evidence claiming that someone else was the historical King Arthur. The fact is we don't know anything."

"No," said Moretti, "most people don't know for sure. We do, because we have that book. It's all there. But knowledge like this is best kept safe here, among the Sons. We wouldn't let just anyone know about it."

That also sounded like Brother Mancini. I narrowed my eyes and started to say something, but Jason interrupted me.

"Who cares, though," said Jason. "Who cares whether or not King Arthur was real?"

"You've heard of the documents connecting King Arthur to the Rising Sun," said Moretti.

"That stuff about Arthur coming back to England is first mentioned in the 12th century," said Jason. "It's a tenuous connection at best. At worst, it's just stupid. People probably patterned the Arthur myth on Jesus Christ."

"No, no, no," said Moretti. "The earliest mention is this book." He took it back from Jason, holding it up in our faces. "And that's not all. Ted believed that the idea that Arthur would return to England was a mistranslation. He thought it meant that Arthur's descendant would save England in its time of worst trouble." Moretti carefully placed the book on the shelf. "I mentioned the book contained a genealogy. The reason that Ted had it was that it clearly points out that he, Edgar Weem, is a descendant of King Arthur."

I furrowed my brow. "I feel like I'm stuck in Holy Blood, Holy Grail," I said. "Next you'll be telling me that book also connects Weem to the bloodline of Jesus Christ."

Moretti snorted. "Jesus Christ didn't exist. He was an invention of the Jewish rabbis, created entirely to quell a revolution."

"What?!" I said, my jaw dropping.

"It's just a theory, Azazel," said Jason.

"Right," I said. "So Jesus isn't real, but King Arthur is. I suppose the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are historical figures too."

"Actually," said Moretti, "there is some very intriguing mythology surrounding—"

"Let's stay on topic," said Jason. "So Weem convinced you that the Rising Sun was real because he was descended from King Arthur?"

"Well," said Moretti, "the evidence was quite compelling. The Sons have always been tied quite strongly to England, and Ted was English himself. The idea that the Rising Sun might not be the culmination of the King Arthur mythos in addition to everything else that he was, well, I couldn't deny the possibility.

"Ted really felt that the Rising Son would be born soon, and that he would be born to someone of his own family. Due to his own professed celibacy, of course, he didn't then think that he would have anything to do with it."

"Really?" said Jason. "Sure. So what changed his mind?"

"Your mother, of course," said Moretti. "It was her idea."

"Oh sure it was," I said. "I'm sure she was gung-ho to be part of all that sick, ritualistic sex with her teacher. Gross." Why did men always blame the girl for that kind of stuff? Weem had been the adult. It had been his fault.

"Doesn't matter," Jason said. He stood up. "Professor, all of this has been interesting, but I have to admit, I'm underwhelmed. I don’t care who I'm descended from or what ridiculous things my father decided to do. The fact is, being followed all over the world by people who are trying to capture me or kill me or kill my girlfriend is really, really grating on my nerves." He held his hand out to me and helped me to my feet. "We'd hoped to find some kind of evidence that we could use to extricate ourselves from this mess, but I think you cleared it up for me back there. It doesn't matter what I believe or what evidence I find. Those men, and you apparently, are functioning on faith. And they're not going to stop believing. Not for any reason." He turned to me. "So I guess we're screwed."

Jason and I started for the doorway.

Moretti moved in our path. "No, Jason, you aren't. You saw how many men there were. And more are arriving daily. They are dedicated to you, body and soul. They will protect you until the death. I wouldn't call that being 'screwed.'"

Hmm. He kind of had a point.

"Besides," said Moretti, "it seems that the campus community has become quite supportive of you."

"Yeah," I said. "We're like suddenly really popular. Do you have anything to do with that?"

"What could I possibly have to do with that?" said Moretti. "It is the two of you. Your power compels. It has done so before. It will only grow."

I swallowed. I didn't think I liked the sound of that. I didn't want to be compelling.

"I assure you," said Moretti. "You are safe here. You are safe on this campus. We are watching. We are protecting you. You are too important to be damaged."

And then, creepily, he knelt down in front of us.

* * *

Jason sighed as he sat down heavily on a pew in the old church. "Normally, I'd say let's just get out of here," he said.

After leaving the library, we'd sent the Weem twins on their way and come inside the assembly hall to talk. It was kind of our spot.

"Leave?" I said.

"I've been thinking about it for awhile," said Jason. "I've been thinking that we aren't having any luck getting into the library, and that the school year's almost over, and that we're gonna have to figure out what we're doing next."

Funny. I hadn't thought about what we were going to do next. I guess I'd been too caught up in my dreams to worry about anything else.

"Those Brothers all bowing down to us," Jason said. "That's really strange."

"Yeah," I agreed. "I guess it's better that those guys we saw are trying to protect us and not kill us though."

Jason nodded. "Yeah, but it's really strange that everyone on campus is trying to be our best friend." He motioned me over to him. "Come sit down with me." I did. He put his arm around me and brushed a stray hair out of my face. "I don't like it, and I think it's creepy, but Moretti's not wrong. If we stay here, we have an army protecting us. Maybe it's not such a terrible idea."

"But school is going to be over soon, like you said."

"I don't think those Brothers are going anywhere. We don't have to either. We'll just stay. Until . . . I don't know, until this whole thing blows over."

"Blows over?" I didn't think that was going to happen.

Jason kissed me. "It could happen," he whispered.

"With people kneeling down to us? I don't think it's blowing over. I think it's getting worse."

"But we're safe," he said. "I think we're actually safe."

God. That sounded too good to be true. But I wanted to believe it so badly. I lay my head Jason's shoulder and clung to him as tightly as I could. Safe. It was such a nice word.

* * *

The prom was Saturday. I'd barely had a chance to think about what I was going to do with my hair and makeup. I'd told the girls at the party that I was just going to do it myself, and that was what I planned to do. But usually, for events like this, I liked to do a trial run day, where I tried a bunch of different hairstyles, took pictures of them, and decided which one I liked. That Friday night, I bounded up the steps to my dorm after classes, about to ask Palomino if she minded if I used her digital camera and possibly her laptop. When I got in the room, however, it wasn't just Mina in there.

My dorm room was crowded with the fifteen most popular girls in the school. They were sitting in chairs, on both of our beds, and on the floor. Mina was sitting in the middle, chatting with all of them. When they noticed me, all of their eyes lit up.

"Amy!" said Fairie Weem. She and her sister were both sitting on my bed, each hugging one of my pillows.

"Hi," I said. "Um, am I interrupting something, Mina?"

Palomino shook her head, beaming. "Absolutely not. We'll all here for you."

"Me?" I said. Great. More weird people worshipping the ground I walked on. Really, really great.

Faruza patted a square of bed next to her. "Sit down," she said. "Come on, sit down."

I put down my books and went to sit down next to Faruza. "So," I said. "What's up?"

"Well," said Fairie, "you remember how Faruza and I were talking about how you and Jason give all the time and you never get back, and we wanted to know what you wanted?"

"Yeah," I said. "And thanks for helping us get into the library." Not that it really mattered anyway, now, did it?

"Well," said Faruza, "I got to thinking that you might not tell us what you really wanted, so I went to your roommate, because I figured who would know better, right?"

Palomino grinned.

I was not feeling particularly good about all of this. "Mina," I said, "what did you tell them?" I could think of at least ten really embarrassing things I'd confided in to Palomino. Who knew what she'd said.

"Okay," she said, smiling. "Don't be mad, okay, because I know this is something you were worried about, because you were asking me about it. And I just thought that if we got a whole bunch of people here, we could really, like, talk about it. You know? Just girls."

"What did you tell them?" I repeated.

"Don't be embarrassed, Amy," said Faruza, "because honestly, you are totally normal."

"Oh my God," I groaned.

"We brought diagrams," spoke up one of the other girls, and she whipped out a poster board. Her name was Rita. She was German—very tall, and very blonde. I looked at the diagram, and I felt my face get really hot. I turned to Palomino. "You did not," I said. "You did not tell them about that."

"Look it's fine," said Fairie. "Like half of the girls here haven't ever had one either."

I looked around the room. A bunch of girls raised their hands. "Really," said one of them, "this is like a public service announcement or something. Because nobody ever talks about this stuff."

"Especially not to guys apparently," said another girl.

Faruza nodded. "George can never find anything on my body without my help."

"You guys are back together?" I asked.

"You said you liked him, right?" she asked, looking worried.

"No, he's fine. I like him fine," I said. I took a deep breath and looked out at the girls in the room. "Okay, well, you know this is sweet of you guys and all. But I don't think that we all need to gather in my room and talk about . . . this. Not really. I'm fine, really. And thank you so much, but—"

"No," said Mina. "You were asking me how they happened. And I don't know. So I figured, we'd get a bunch of together and pool our knowledge, and by the end of the conversation, we'll all be orgasm experts."

I buried my face in my hands.

"So," said Rita. "The first thing to talk about is the clitoris."

I looked up. She was gesturing at the diagram. "Whoa," I said. "Can we just not say that word? I mean, it sounds like the name of disease or something. Like, 'I can't go out. I caught clitoris.'"

Everyone giggled.

"What do you want to call it then?" asked Mina.

"I don't know," I said. "I think I'm comfortable with just not talking about it, actually. And put that diagram away."

Rita put the diagram down. "Maybe the diagram's a little advanced," she admitted. "We also have copies of Cosmo. Who's got the magazines?"

Several people pulled out magazines. Within a few seconds, they were spread open in front of me. I looked at the pages, cocking my head in confusion. I pointed at a picture. "What are they doing?"

"Oh," said Faruza. "That's the kama sutra issue. I think that's a little off-topic for now." She picked up the magazine and closed it.

"Look," said Rita, "according to Cosmo, the most important thing to remember is that, unless the guy you're with is a total jackass—in which case you shouldn't have sex with him anyway—he really wants to make you happy."

"Yeah," said another girl. "But all guys are really, really stupid about this."

"And embarrassed," said Fairie. "Because it makes them look like they're bad in bed or something."

"So," said Rita. "We have to help them."

"Because," said Faruza, "let's face it. We have to help guys with everything."

Everyone laughed again. I couldn't help it. I smiled a little. "Okay," I said. "So we have to help them." Maybe this wasn't a totally terrible idea. Maybe. I could listen for a little while anyway.

"There are two kinds of orgasms," said Rita, holding up an issue of Cosmo. To avoid saying the word that Amy doesn't like, we'll call them . . . internal and external."

"Oh God," I said. "That's even worse."

Rita just grinned. "For most girls, the internal ones are harder."

"Not for me," said Palomino. "That's the only kind I have."

Fairie glared at her. "Lucky you."

Mina beamed.

"Don't worry about the internal ones," said Rita. "Start with the external ones and go from there."

The talk seemed to go on forever, and I was extremely embarrassed the entire time. Maybe everyone else was too, considering we all kept erupting in giggles every five minutes. More than once, I just wanted it all to stop, but another part of me was too curious, so I kept talking and kept listening. I even looked at Rita's diagram. Which kind of made sense.

Finally, I'd been read about five different magazine articles and listened to several girls tell me that, like me, they hadn't been able to figure out how to have orgasms either, and they sometimes thought it bothered their boyfriends more than it bothered them.

"I just don't get it," a girl named Lissa was saying. "I'm the one who's not getting off, and he gets all pissed off about it. And that really doesn't turn me on."

I knew what she meant.

"But this should help, right?" said Rita, waving the diagram around.

"Put that away!" I said. "I don't want to look at the diagram anymore."

We all laughed, but Rita did put it away.

"It helps," I said. "I mean, yeah. I feel like I kind of understand the whole thing more now, but I still just don't know how to even like bring it up." I looked around at the other girls. "Like, if I tried to talk to my boyfriend about this, I would get really, really embarrassed. And besides that, how am I supposed to explain to him what to do without using really technical words that sound like diseases and making everything like robotic or some-thing."

"Yeah, I get that," said Lissa. "Like if I'm telling him, 'Do this. Do that.' That’s not going to be very sexy."

"Don't tell him anything," said Fairie, giggling. "Just take his hand and move it where you want it and show him what to do."

I considered. Maybe that would work. Assuming I even had one of these external buttons or clitorises or whatever we were calling them. Assuming I could even figure out where it was. That diagram was totally strange looking.

"Well," said Rita. "Prom's tomorrow, girls. I hope all of your after prom experiences are, well, memorable."

Everyone laughed again.

"Are you and Jeremy getting a hotel room in town?" Faruza asked me.

"Um . . ." I shook my head. "No, you know, we can't really afford stuff like that."

"We're switching dorm rooms," said Palomino. "And I'm letting you guys stay here. I'm going to the guy's room. And I'm making this sacrifice because I love you. Chance promises he's going to clean, but I don't believe he knows how."

More laughter.

"How do you sneak in and out of each other's dorm rooms?" asked one of the girls.

"Magic," I said. "And fire escapes."

* * *

That night I had a dream. It wasn't a nightmare, but it was vivid. I wasn't in the dream. I could see everything that was happening, but it was like I was a ghost or a being with no body. In my incorporeal form, I hovered inside the parlor of Michaela Weem's house. It looked different than I remembered. It wasn't covered in dust. There weren't cobwebs clinging to the corners. The furniture was different. Several overstuffed couches slouched against the wall. They were patterned in some kind of delicate floral pattern. Michaela Weem was sitting on one of the couches. A man sat next to her, older, maybe in his late thirties or early forties. His hairline was starting to recede, but his face was still quite attractive. He looked like Jason.

He was holding a leather-bound book. He looked disappointed and discouraged. "You wrote it all down?" he asked.

"It was my diary," said Michaela Weem. "I was a teenager. I wrote things down."

"This has to be destroyed," said the man.

Michaela rolled her eyes. "Give it back to me."

"It's evidence of what we did. If the Sons got hold of this, everything I've worked for could be destroyed immediately."

"Well, that would be terrible, wouldn't it?" Michaela's voice dripped with sarcasm. She snatched at the book, but the man pulled it out of her reach.

"You can't keep this," he said.

"Give it back to me!" she said, and she lunged for him, her fingers scrabbling against his, trying to pry his fingers off the book.

The man shoved her. She fell back against the couch and cracked her head against the wall. The man stood up. "It has to be destroyed," he said.

Michaela touched the back of her head gingerly, tears springing to her eyes. Then she vaulted off the couch, grabbing at the book again.

The man captured her wrist with one hand and squeezed. "Stop," he said. "I'm going to destroy it."

"But it's my diary!" said Michaela. "It's my own personal thoughts and feelings, and I want it." She grabbed for it again.

The man slapped her face. She stumbled back, her hand on her cheek, her eyes full of hatred and anger. "Don't," she whispered. "You'll wake Jude."

The man strode across the room and put the leather book inside his briefcase, which was sitting next to the doorway. Turning, he said, "And what's this I hear about you and Arabella's daughter? You've got some group of backwoods crazies worshipping your ridiculous rabbit god?"

Michaela seethed. "I had my hand in bringing the abomination into this world. I will do my part to rid the world of his evil."

The man threw his hands up in the air. "This is why I can't come back here anymore. That abomination you talk about is our son. And frankly, it's just sick that you want to hurt him."

"You know what we did!" Michaela cried. "It's all there in my diary. You know what we did. How could anything that came from that be anything but an abomination?"

I floated into the hallway outside the parlor. A small boy with dark hair was creeping across the floor in the darkness. His hand darted into the briefcase and retrieved the leather diary. Then he snuck back up the stairs.

"I won't be back here, Michaela," the man was saying. "I took vows. I break them every time I see you."

"Vows?" she spit out. "What about the vows you made to me? In sickness and in health?"

"Your sickness is too much," said the man.

"Where is he?" said Michaela. "Where is the abomin-ation?"

"You'll never find him," said the man. He walked into the hallway and picked up his briefcase. "Besides, he has a lot he needs to learn if he's to fulfill his destiny. His upbringing has to be perfect."

I awoke with a jolt because Palomino's alarm was going off. I threw a pillow at her. "It's Saturday!" I said to her.

It was Saturday. It was the day of the prom. And I wasn't sure, but I thought I'd just had a dream about Michaela and Edgar Weem. And Jude, as a little boy. And that leather book he'd had. Where was it? I needed to find it. I'd put it in my pocket. Had I thrown those pants in with my dirty laundry?

"Mina!" I said. Her alarm was still going off.

Palomino turned off the alarm. "Sorry," she mumbled sleepily.

I rolled over, enjoying the silence. And slipped back into sleep almost immediately.

* * *

There were about five people pulling my hair in completely different directions. We were standing in front of the mirror in Faruza's and Fairie's gorgeous suite, where they had a bathroom the size of a small country. The mirror was enormous, and everyone was trying to help me get ready. Since I'd told everyone I planned on doing my hair and makeup myself, everyone had jumped on the bandwagon, and we were all getting ready together. It was a madhouse.

"I was really going to do this myself," I protested, trying to swat people away from my hair.

"Don't be silly," said Faruza. "We're all here."

Rita tapped a picture in an open magazine, which the girls were trying to copy. It was a complicated updo with tendrils of curls falling out of it in a tousled look. It was very pretty.

"Jason likes my hair down," I said.

"Boys always say that," said Fairie. "They say they want everything simple, but they're just saying that because they don't understand what they want."

Or maybe they really did like things simple—girls with no makeup who wore their hair down. And maybe we just did all this fussy dressing up stuff for other girls, not actually for boys.

Faruza yanked my head sideways and began rolling up a section of my hair with a curling iron. I guessed I was just going to have to sit tight.

Within twenty minutes, my hair was completely and totally curled. I surveyed my face in the mirror, surrounded by corkscrew curls. They were pretty. Rita put her hands on my head and began running her fingers through them.

"What are you doing?" I asked her. I'd really liked my corkscrew curls.

"Achieving tousled perfection," she informed me. "Trust me."

While Rita and the Weem twins were using an entire box of bobby pins on my head, pinning up my tousled curls, the phone in the dorm room rang. Palomino ran to answer it. We could hear her in the bedroom.

"What?" she was saying. "Why?" She was quiet for a few seconds. "Okay," she said finally and hung up.

Palomino came into the bathroom. "You guys aren't going to be happy," she said.

"What?" said Fairie.

"That was the dorm mother," she said. "Campus is on lockdown. Apparently, there's some kind of external threat. They didn't say what, but she said it sometimes happens if one of the kids is in danger of being kidnapped or something."

"Yeah," said Rita, "when that Norwich girl who graduated a few years ago was nearly kidnapped, the campus went on lockdown."

"Anyway, the dance is still on," said Palomino, "but no one can leave campus until we get the all clear."

"Wait," said Fairie. "That means no hotel rooms after the dance?"

Mina nodded. "Yeah. That's what she said."

"That means no parties," said Rita.

"I'm calling my dad," said Faruza.

I excused myself to the hallway and called Jason. This whole thing kind of worried me. He picked up after a few rings.

"What's up?" he said.

"Did you guys hear about the lockdown?" I asked.

"Yeah. Some of the guys down the hall are really pissed off because they booked expensive hotel rooms. Kinda sucks for them, I guess."

"It's an external threat. You don't think it has anything to do with us, do you?"

"Us?" he said. "Why would it?"

"What if it's the Sons? What if they're trying to get to us?"

"Jesus, Azazel. You worry about the Sons way too much. They don't even know where we are."

"Yeah, but they don't seem to have much trouble finding us. And now that we're like the most popular people on campus, we're not exactly low profile. The head said we were special. Moretti knows who we are. George might. Lots of people might."

Jason sighed. I could tell he was moving from wherever he was because the sounds in the background got muffled. "Okay," he said finally. "There is an army of Brothers in the basement of the library. They are all armed and trained to fight. We are safe, or did you forget that conversation we had?"

"I just . . . I . . ."

"Azazel, it's prom. One day, that's all I want. I want one completely normal, perfect, high school memory, okay? I am going to come and get you, and I am going to give you a corsage, and you are going to be wearing that dress you were carrying, and then we are going to dance and have fun and nothing bad is going to happen. Okay?"

I sighed. "Okay."

The background noises returned. They sounded kind of electronic. "I love you."

"I love you too," I said. "What are you doing?"

"Chance and I are playing video games," he said. "What are you doing?"

"Getting ready for the dance," I said.

"It's not for hours," he said.

I rolled my eyes. Boys.

* * *

When Jason saw me, his eyes lit up. I had been a little worried, especially since my hair was up, and I was wearing a lot more makeup than usual. But the dress Palomino had helped me pick out was definitely perfect.

The dress was a rose-colored, tea-length gown. It was strapless, and the heart-shaped bodice gave me just a little tasteful cleavage. It gathered at the waist with a black sash. The skirt was full, with lots of asymmetrical ruffles. I hadn't gone overboard with accessories, just a few bangly bracelets and some sparkly, dangly earrings. My neck was bare, and so were my ankles. The dress made me feel elegant, but I liked its simplicity and its funky detail. Standing at the top of the steps in my dorm room, I looked down over the railing into the foyer.

Jason and Chance were waiting for us.

I took one step onto the steps and began to descend slowly. I kind of had to, because my heels were really high and otherwise, I would have tripped. But with the dress swishing around my legs, the ruffles bouncing, I felt like a debutante or a princess. Jason and Chance gaped up at Mina and me as we made our slow descent. It did feel perfect. Like something out of a teen movie.

When I reached Jason, he held out my corsage. "You look beautiful," he murmured. "I'm afraid to touch you. I don't want to mess you up."

I laughed. "Don't be silly," I said, and I kissed him.

And then he had lipstick on his face. I tried to wipe it off. "Sorry," I said.

He grinned. "I don't think I really care if people can tell I've been kissing you."

The corsage was simple and pretty—a single red rose bed of baby's breath. As he slipped it over my wrist, he worried, "It matches, right? You said the dress was red."

I twirled. "You like it?"

He took me in again, a wide, silly grin on his face. "I love it," he whispered, sliding his arm around my waist in a way that made me feel tiny and delicate. He led me out of the dorm.

In Bramford, we would have had to drive to the prom, probably in a limo, which was the tradition. Since we were only going across campus to the main hall, however, we walked. Mina and Chance walked ahead of us, hand in hand, occasionally whispering things in each other's ears. I smiled looking at them. I wouldn't have wanted my brother to be a teenager father if you'd consulted me, but I was glad he was with Mina. They seemed happy and, besides the worry about the baby, they were carefree. No one was chasing them and trying to kill them. More than anything, that was what I wanted for my little brother. I didn't want him to ever have to worry about that kind of violence.

I shuddered, thinking about my dream about Chance. In the dream, I'd had to pick between Chance and Jason. In reality, I hoped I never had to make a choice like that, because I didn't know what I'd do.

The campus was decorated for prom with paper lanterns strung along the walkways. Candles were lit on each of the steps to the entrance of the main hall. Inside, the room didn't look much different than it did most of the time. It wasn't like proms back in Bramford, where the walls of the gym would be covered in paper, with cardboard cutouts of pillars and fountains overflowing with balloons. There was also was no ubiquitous disco ball in the middle of the room.

Instead, the room had been set up with two rows of round tables, each covered in a white linen table cloth, with fine china and silverware settings. Each table had a centerpiece of white roses. Someone had taken the time to light the very old chandelier that was in the middle of the room. The chandelier was lit entirely by candles. I looked up at it, wondering if it would drip wax on the dance floor. The dance floor wasn't nearly as large as it might have been at a prom in West Virginia. It was only a wide aisle between the tables.

They had put up different curtains than the ones that usually decorated the main hall. These were white with gold patterns woven through them, and they swept the floor. The windows in the main hall were quite tall, since the ceiling in the room was vaulted, so the curtains were pretty impressive. Overall, the room had a feeling of understated elegance, but no hint of gaudiness or excess. It was beautiful. It was gorgeous. It was definitely a room to have a perfect high school memory in.

The evening was soon underway. There was a sit-down dinner, brought to us by waiters in tuxedos. Because we were in Italy, it consisted of about a trillion courses. I was terrified of dropping food on my dress, so I ate carefully and didn't stuff myself. While we were finishing dessert, the music started and the lights came down. The first song came and went without anyone entering the dance floor. But during the second song, couples began to wander out into the aisle and dance. Chance and Mina, who were sitting with us at our table, left. I spotted Faruza and George. Fairie was dragging her date out with her.

Jason and I sat at the table alone. I was poking the remains of my flan with my fork. I'd really been too full to take more than a few bites. He smiled at me.

"I guess this is the part where we dance," I said.

"About the dancing," he said. "I'm not really very good at it."

I took my napkin off my lap and threw it over my flan. "Oh come on," I said. "What do guys really have to do when dancing?" I gestured to Faruza and George. George was standing behind Faruza with his hands on her waist while she ground her butt into his pelvis.

Jason laughed. "Yeah, okay. Like you're pulling that move off in your heels."

"I thought this was supposed to be our perfect high school memory," I said to him. "My perfect high school memory involves dancing."

"Slow dancing, though, right?" he said. "Like where we just stand next to each other and sway?"

"Jason!" I said.

"Give it a second," he said, smiling.

The second song was ending. It was quiet for a few minutes, and then the sound of a screaming guitar solo overtook the room. Jason grinned and stood up, holding out his hand.

"Guns n' Roses?" I asked, grinning at him. Jason really liked Guns n' Roses. "Did you set this up?"

"'Sweet Child O' Mine,'" he said. "It's as slow of a song as they have."

I was laughing, but I put my hand in his and allowed him to lead me onto the dance floor, which had largely cleared, because the girls weren't totally sure how to grind to this.

Jason put his hands on my waist. I wrapped my arms around his neck. And we started swaying. "Sweet Child O' Mine" might have been one of Guns and Roses' slower songs, but it had a relatively quick tempo, so we had to sway pretty quickly.

Jason smiled down at me, looking deep into my eyes and started mouthing the words to me. I just laughed and buried my face in his tux. He lifted my chin and whispered in my ear, "Looking at you does take me away to a special place."

I playfully poked him. "Yeah," I said. "That's because you are special, Jason."

He grabbed the hand that I'd poked him with and wrapped it back around his neck. "I mean it." And he was serious. "I don't know what I'd do without you."

My grin melted into a small, happy smile. "Me either," I said.

"You're like the other part of me," he said. "Without you, I feel like half a person."

I knew what he meant. I just nodded.

And with our eyes locked on each other, silly smiles on our faces, he lowered his lips to mine and kissed me. And there was nothing sweeter on earth than kissing Jason's lips.

Jason insisted on only dancing to slow songs, but I eventually got Palomino to dance with me a couple of times, when I could pry her and Chance away from each other. They were constantly making googly eyes at each other, even if they were across the room from each other. It was nice, seeing the two of them happy again.

Of course, the weird popularity continued. Everyone in the room stopped to compliment my hair or my dress or to tell Jason and me how awesome we looked. And the DJ played essentially anything I asked him to play. The night wore on. Then the head of the school stopped the music and took a microphone to speak. The waiters from before were weaving through the crowd and handing out tall crystal flutes filled with champagne. We were all allowed one glass, since the drinking age for beer and wine in Italy was sixteen. Fairie whispered in my ear not to drink it yet, though. We were going to use it to toast the prom king and queen. Well, they didn't call it the prom king and queen, but that was basically what it was.

Currently, the head was droning on and on about it. "Every year, here at the Sol Solis School, the faculty selects a male and female student who we feel embodies the spirit of the Sol Solis School. These students are high academic achievers, participants in the events the school's activities, good citizens, and are students who their peers look up to. These students are given the honor of being recognized as the Primo and Prima of the Spring Formal.

"During many of our past years, the process of choosing two such students has been an arduous affair, but this year, two students immediately stood out to all of us, and we unanimously chose them with very little discussion. I know that each of you here will also recognize how much these two students are the obvious choices this year, and will join me in congratulating Amy Smith and Jeremy Black as this year's first couple."

At first I looked around for the people who had those names. Then I remembered that that was us. Jason and I exchanged a stunned glance. We were the king and queen of the prom? Really?

I didn't know what to do with my glass of champagne, but Faruza took it from me.

Jason and I walked up to the front of the room amid resounding cheers and applause from the rest of the student body and the teachers. It didn't die down even when we reached the front of the room. In fact, it seemed to go on forever.

It was cool, but it was still, well, weird. I kept waiting for the head to shush everyone, but he didn't. He just let the applause and cheers continue. He was still clapping himself. When it finally did start to die down, he said, "I think we can all agree that it's been a pleasure interacting with these two. They truly are an asset to the school."

More cheers and applause. Jason and I just stood there, frozen, feeling like idiots. We waited again for an agonizingly long time for the cheers to die down. Why did everyone suddenly like us so much? What was going on?

"All right," said the head. "We will now all lift our glasses to the Primo and Prima of the Sol Solis School. Cin cin!" (Which is how they say "cheers" in Italy.)

"Cin cin!" echoed the rest of the people in the room and then they all sipped at their champagne.

I wanted my champagne. I felt like I needed a drink to fully deal with the fact that everyone thought Jason and I were the best thing since canned peaches.

"And now," said the head, "the traditional dance between the Primo and Prima."

Music swelled behind us. Jason took my hand and led me out onto the dance floor. When I looked up at his face, his eyes were shining. He grinned down at me. "This is perfect," he whispered. "It's better than anything I could have imagined. This is all I've ever wanted."

I felt immediately guilty. Here I was contemplating how weird the whole thing was, and Jason was enjoying it. We were at a dance. We'd just been crowned the king and queen. We were living the teen dream. Why did I have to pick everything apart and look for the danger? Why couldn't I accept that something good was happening to me? If I just lay my head on Jason's shoulder and felt the warmth of his arms around me, maybe I could just soak up the incredible excellence of this moment, like Jason was doing. Maybe I could—

Of course not. The reason I couldn't accept that something good was happening to me was that nothing good ever happened to me.

And that simple fact of my life was made perfectly clear when I heard the crash of breaking glass.

Déjà vu.

The glass of the windows shattered to the ground, and I could only think about my Aunt Stephanie's house. November. My parents sitting around a table. Bullets exploding through their heads. Blood spilling on the table, on my Aunt Stephanie's white carpet.

And the Sons of the Rising Son bursting in through the windows shooting.

Just like they were doing now. At my prom.

episode eight >>

Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers