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episode four

Chapter Four

To: Renegade Son < [email protected] >
From: Edgar Weem < [email protected] >
Subject: Re: Monthly update

Hallam,

I appreciate the update. I know you have a soft spot for Jason, but you must realize that the boy is not what he appears to be. Please continue to keep an eye on him. If the situation escalates, especially the violence, it may be necessary for us to step in. Of course, we'll try to avoid that at all costs.

Edgar

I waited until the last possible second to get to detention, so I was almost late. Mr. Sutherland met me at the door to his classroom. He smiled at me. "Hi Azazel," he said. "I was beginning to think you wouldn't show up."

I looked past him into the classroom. Several other students were sitting inside at the desks. I didn't recognize any of them. None of them looked particularly like people I wanted to get to know either. There was a burly guy with a bandana tied around his head. He was wearing several large gold chains. One guy was wearing a white tank top which showed off his tattoo-covered arms. Another guy had greasy hair pulled into a ponytail at the nape of his neck. There were two girls as well. They both wore large hoop earrings and lots of makeup. None of them looked at me as I came inside and sat down.

This was stupid. I did not belong in detention. I hadn't done anything wrong. I was a good kid. I made good grades. I did not belong here with all these delinquents.

Mr. Sutherland shut the door to his classroom. "Well," he said, "today in detention, one of you will be alphabetizing my books by author." He gestured to a large bookshelf which was groaning under the weight of all the books on it. Mr. Sutherland had to be kidding. "The others will be scrubbing down my desks."

Ugh. Why did Mr. Sutherland have to make detention into work?

The burly bandana guy raised his hand. "Hey, isn't there some law that you can't make us do manual labor?"

Mr. Sutherland shrugged. "I'm not really familiar with your American laws," he said, smiling.

"Bullshit," said the tattooed guy.

"Watch your language," said Mr. Sutherland. "Anymore of that and I'll have you after school for another day." He smiled. "Now. Would anyone like to volunteer to alphabetize?"

No one said anything.

"Fine," said Mr. Sutherland, "then, Azazel, I think that's a good job for you. I'm certain you know the alphabet. I don't know about the rest of these guys."

Thanks, Mr. Sutherland. Insult the rest of the people in detention at my expense. That would make this a great, great experience for me. What a jerk!

But I got up and went to the bookshelf. While Mr. Sutherland instructed the other students in the technique he wanted them to use to wash the desks off, I began pulling all of the books off the bookshelf. Within a few minutes, I was surrounded by stacks of books. I sat down Indian style on the ground and began going through them, looking for authors whose last names were at the beginning of the alphabet. I was astonished when one of the books I picked up was Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. I'd read this book sometime last year, in the wake of my literary love affair with Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code. It was the book on which Dan Brown had based his book. The book was extremely intriguing, all about the Holy Grail, secret societies, and conspiracy theories. That kind of stuff used to really interest me. Until I met Jason, and I found out that the Sons were the real thing. Secret societies were interesting when I didn't have to intimately interact with them. It was weird that Mr. Sutherland had this book.

I held it my hands, turning it over and staring at it, memories rushing back to me. It had only been a few years ago that I'd read it, but it seemed like forever. I'd been so young and silly then. I remembered having passionate conversations with my dad about the book, trying to convince him that there really were secret societies behind the scenes, pulling hidden strings. He'd just laughed at me. Everyone had. In the end, it had turned out that I was right. I half-wished I hadn't been.

"Would you like to borrow that book?" Mr. Sutherland asked.

He was standing directly over me.

I looked up at him, startled. "Um, no," I said, "that's okay. I've read it already."

Mr. Sutherland crouched down so that he was on my level. "You have?" he asked, sounding pleasantly surprised.

"Yeah," I said. "I used to be really into that kind of thing."

"That kind of thing?"

"Secret societies and stuff," I said.

"Oh," said Mr. Sutherland. "Well, it happens to be one of my interests as well." He began searching through the stacks of books I'd made. "I have several books on various similar subjects. A few on the Knights Templar, some on Freemasonry. I'd be happy to let you borrow them."

I shook my head. "That's okay, Mr. Sutherland," I said. "It was just kind of a phase. I'm not into it anymore."

"Really?" he said.

I nodded, going back to the books.

"Is that why you took the bell?" he asked.

"What?" I said, looking back up at him.

"The bell," said Mr. Sutherland. "It has an engraving on it. Very intriguing. It reminded me of something . . ." He began paging through the book he was holding. "In here somewhere . . . Yes. Here it is." He showed me the book. On the page was a picture very similar to the engraving on the bell. It was a picture of the run rising over water.

My heart started to beat faster. "What is that?" I asked.

"It's a picture associated with an ancient secret society from the Renaissance," said Mr. Sutherland. "They've long since died out. There were called the Rising Suns or something like that."

I swallowed. "Really?" I managed.

"Did you see the resemblance as well?" he asked. "Quite remarkable, really. I wonder where Mr. Dingle acquired that bell."

"I didn't . . ." I trailed off, shaking my head.

Mr. Sutherland smiled. "Oh, of course. You told Mr. Dingle you didn't take the bell, didn't you?"

"I didn't take the bell," I said. I felt like I was strangling. I could hardly breathe, let alone speak.

"Of course you didn't," said Mr. Sutherland. "Would you like to borrow this book?"

I nodded.

He offered it to me. "Anytime that you'd like to talk conspiracy theories, just let me know," said Mr. Sutherland. "You're a very intriguing young lady, Azazel. Very intelligent."

I snatched the book out of his hands. "Thank you," I said, my voice shaking.

Mr. Sutherland's lips curved into a deep smile. "Certainly," he said.

He stood up and went back to supervising the other students.

I looked down at the book he'd given me, my hands trembling. Oh my God. Why hadn't I seen it before? I was so stupid. Mr. Sutherland. He was from England. I'd found the bell in his class. And he was interested in secret societies?

Mr. Sutherland was a member of the Sons. It was so obvious to me now. He was after me. And now I had to spend every day this week in his classroom for detention. Surely he wouldn't hurt me in front of these other students. Would he?

It made sense. He was here to watch both Jason and me. That was why we both had him as a teacher. And he had planted that bell in my purse himself. He'd wanted to get me into detention somehow. He was planning something. What was he planning? Why had he done it? What were the Sons going to do to me?

He'd even mentioned the Sons. He'd gotten the name slightly wrong, of course, but that hardly mattered. He'd sent me the message loud and clear. I knew what was going on. He must know that I knew. I stared at the books I was supposed to be alphabetizing, too terrified to move. At any second, I expected Mr. Sutherland to whip out a gun and shoot us all. Any second.

But detention just dragged on. Mr. Sutherland didn't do anything else suspicious. And eventually, I even went back to alphabetizing. By the time it was time for me to leave, I had even gotten all of them back on the shelf, in alphabetical order.

Mr. Sutherland dismissed us from detention, but as I was heading for the door, he said, "Azazel, would you stay a second?"

No. I wouldn't. I couldn’t. This was it. If I stayed, he would take out his gun. Calmly shoot me between the eyes. Step over my body. Leave the school. No one would ever hear from him again. "Okay," I said.

Mr. Sutherland handed me a slip of paper. "This is my address," he said. "I wouldn't give it to just anyone, but I feel like we have a little bit of a connection. You're a special girl. I have more books like the one I lent you at home. Stop by sometime. I can let you borrow them."

Go to his house? Was he crazy? Did he think I was stupid? If I went there, he'd kill me for sure. I wasn't going anywhere near his house. He should realize that. Luckily, at that second, my cell phone rang. That was probably Jude, who was waiting to take me to work. "I have to go, Mr. Sutherland," I said. "Someone's waiting for me."

"Okay," said Mr. Sutherland, smiling easily. "Just hang onto my address though. Drop by anytime."

It took all my will not to run out of the room. Instead, I walked. I took very large steps, and I got out of there as soon as I could. I got into Jude's car, still clutching the slip of paper that Mr. Sutherland had given me.

"Hey," said Jude. "You look freaked. What happened?"

I shook my head. I couldn't talk about this with Jude. I wanted to beg off work and go see Jason immediately. Jason would have to believe me now. And he'd know what to do. "Nothing," I said.

I'd be safe at work, though. It was a public place. There were lots of people there. The Sons wouldn't risk trying to kill me in such a populated building. I could go to work. I would. If I didn't, it would look weird. Jude might get suspicious. I couldn't put Jude in danger.

"What are you holding?" Jude asked. "Looks like you've got a death grip on it."

"Mr. Sutherland's address," I said. "He asked me to go to his house."

Jude made a face. "Eew," he said. "Why'd he do that?"

I shrugged. "He wanted to give me some books."

"Oh," said Jude, looking disappointed. "I thought maybe he was like a pedophile or something. It would have been fun to get him fired."

If I thought getting Mr. Sutherland fired would have made any difference, I would have been all for it. "Let's just go to work," I said. "I hate detention."

* * *

When I got home from work, it was after midnight, so I knew that both Jason and Hallam would be asleep. I was planning on waking Jason up anyway, though. What I'd found out was too important. He needed to know. After I'd told him, he'd probably want to wake up Hallam as well, but for now, I'd just tell Jason. I didn't know what was going to happen. Were we going to have to go on the run again? I didn't want to. I'd been happy here in Florida. We'd been settled. Still, it clearly wasn't safe here. We'd have to do what we had to do.

I was shocked when Jude dropped me off, and I saw that the lights were still on in our apartment. When I walked in the door, I heard the sounds of laughter. Jason and Lilith were sitting next to each other on the couch. Lilith was laughing so hard that she was resting her forehead on Jason's shoulder.

I couldn't believe it. Why were they still awake? Jason knew we had school in the morning. I cleared my throat.

Jason and Lilith both looked up at me.

"Hey Zaza," said Lilith, her voice still full of laughter.

God. Why couldn't she stop calling me that? I glared at her.

"You two look like you're having fun," I said.

"What time is it?" said Jason.

"It's after midnight," I said.

"Really?" said Jason. "Wow. Lilith and I have been talking. I guess we lost track of time." He smiled at her. "I should probably go to bed."

She grinned back. "I didn't mean to keep you up."

"It's okay," said Jason.

"Actually," I said. "I have something to tell you, Jason."

"Okay," he said. "What's up?"

"I don't want to tell you in front of Lilith," I said.

"How come?" asked Jason.

"It's about the Sons," I said.

"Oh, that's cool," said Jason. "I told her all about that stuff."

"You did?"

"She wanted to know what happened after we left Bramford. I filled her in," said Jason.

Lilith shook her head, horror all over her face. "Wow, Zaza. That shit was crazy. I can't believe Jason's mother is such a bitch."

He told her about Michaela Weem? He'd been talking to her all night? They'd been laughing together? I remembered what Jude had asked me the day before in Mr. Sutherland's class. Was I worried that Lilith would sleep with Jason? I hadn't been. I wasn't. I trusted Jason. But I didn't trust Lilith. Not at all.

"Yeah," I said. "I can't believe it either."

"So, it's cool," said Jason. "Sit down. Tell me what you need to tell me."

I really didn't want to tell Lilith about this. It was none of her business. And if we did go on the run, Lilith was not coming with us. The Sons would leave her alone. She would only slow us down.

I started at the beginning, telling Jason everything that had happened in detention. I showed him the picture in the book that Mr. Sutherland had given me. When I was finished, I sat down on the couch. "So, you think we should wake up Hallam?" I asked.

Jason didn't say anything.

"Zaza, you're paranoid," said Lilith.

I was not paranoid! I didn't respond, however, waiting for Jason to defend me. He'd see the seriousness of the situation. Lilith couldn't understand.

"That's not how I'd put it," said Jason. He turned to Lilith. "She's been through hell, Lilith. She saw her parents murdered right in front of her face."

Wait. Why didn't this sound entirely like he was defending me?

"Azazel," said Jason, "I don't think Mr. Sutherland is a member of the Sons."

"But the book," I protested. "And the bell. And I found it in his classroom."

"So, he's into secret societies," said Jason.

"And he's British," I said.

"That doesn't mean he's a member of the Sons," Jason said.

"You don't believe me?" I said. I was incredulous.

"It doesn't make sense," said Jason. "It's not how the Sons work. If they wanted me back, they wouldn't have some guy pose as a teacher to watch me. They'd just come for me. They're not subtle when it comes to me. You must remember that, don't you?"

"He knows things," I said. "He smiled at me in the creepiest way."

"He sounds like he was just trying to be nice," said Lilith. "He probably thinks you're a gifted student. He wants to help you."

I turned on Lilith. "You don't know what you're talking about."

She shrugged. "Sorry," she said. "But Jason told me about the deal you made. Edgar Weem would have to be stupid to go back on that."

"Don't you see?" I said. "Edgar Weem is trying to find some way of getting Jason back. He's not going to do it in the normal ways. He knows that we'd make his secret public. He's being stealthy."

"The Sons would not plant a bell in your bag, Azazel," said Jason. "Why would they want you in detention?"

"So that Mr. Sutherland could watch me," I said.

"Oh come on," said Jason, "that's really farfetched. You can't really think this."

I shook my head. Why didn't he believe me? It was obvious that we were in danger, and Jason didn't see it. What was I going to do? No one was taking me seriously. "Maybe if you weren't so busy making jokes with Lilith, you'd actually listen to what I'm saying," I said.

"Lilith doesn't have anything to do with this," said Jason. "Now, I know you're mad at her about what happened in Bramford, but honestly, Azazel, she was just as much a victim as you were. Why can't you let it go? She's trying to make amends here."

"You're right," I said. "Lilith doesn't have anything to do with this. So let's just leave her out of it."

"You're so stubborn," said Jason.

I stood up. "You used to like that about me," I murmured.

"Azazel—" said Jason.

"No," I said. "Don't." And I walked back to my room, feeling defeated, frightened, and confused. What was going on here?

* * *

Jason cornered me. "Look at me," he said.

I glared up at him. We were just a few feet from the school building. We'd been walking for the past few blocks in silence that morning. After our discussion last night, I just hadn't felt like talking to him.

"You can't just keep ignoring me," he said.

The hell I couldn't. I was good at ignoring people. Jason should know that. He'd witnessed me ignore my ex-boyfriend Toby for an entire day. Of course, Toby and I didn't live in the same house, which had kind of made it easier. Also, I wasn't nearly as in love with Toby as I was with Jason. That made it hard too.

"I'm not mad at you," he said.

I shrugged.

"Talk to me," Jason ordered.

I focused on a spot of the sky just above his head.

"That's it," he said, taking my hand and leading me away from the school.

"But" I said, then cut myself off. I wasn't going to speak to him.

"We're skipping Chem," said Jason.

"I've already got detention," I protested.

"We'll sign in late," he said. "We were sick. You can't get in trouble for that."

We walked for blocks, neither of us speaking. But I knew where Jason and I were headed now. We were going to a park that was near our apartment. It had a playground, complete with swings and a sandbox. Jason and I sat down on the swings. I stared down at my feet, swinging idly back and forth, tracing lines in the sandy soil with my toe.

"Azazel," said Jason. "What's wrong?"

I shrugged, concentrating on burrowing my toe in the sand underneath the swing.

"How long are you planning on ignoring me?" he said.

I shrugged again. I could ignore him forever. He should realize that. I was good at ignoring him.

Jason got up off the swing. He put his foot in the seat of it and clutched the chains. "You're acting like a six-year-old," he muttered, gazing past me out at the playground.

Insulting me wasn't going to get me to talk. It would just make me angrier and make me less likely to talk to him.

"Azazel," said Jason. "Come on."

I shook my head.

Jason sighed. "Fine," he said. "At least we're getting out of Chemistry." It was an Even day, so Jason and I had the same 1st period. He sat back down on the swing.

I glared at him. That was it? He was just going to give up? Didn't he want me to talk to him? How could he just stop trying to get me to talk? "Even Toby didn't give up that fast," I said to my shoes.

Jason vaulted out of the swing. "You did not just say that," he said.

Instantly, I felt guilty. I knew that Jason felt threatened by Toby. I really shouldn't have said that. "I'm sorry," I said.

"No, you're not," Jason said. He folded his arms over his chest. "Sorry I'm not Toby."

"Oh hell, Jason, you know that's not what I meant," I said.

"Do I know that? Because it sounded to me like you just compared the two of us and said he was better than me."

"I" I broke off. "I didn't mean it."

Jason shook his head. "So why'd you say it?"

I shrugged. "I don't know," I said.

"You meant it," Jason said.

"No, I didn't," I insisted. "I'm sorry, really."

"Lilith said you weren't over him," said Jason.

"Lilith?" What did Lilith know about me and Toby, anyway? "Why are you and Lilith talking about me behind my back?"

"We're not talking about you behind your back," said Jason. "We were just talking. That's all."

"God," I said. "She's trying to sabotage me. I just knew it. I should never have trusted her again." Lilith was saying things about me to Jason that weren't true. It was making the little issues that Jason and I had into bigger ones. She was such a bitch. I hated her.

"She's not trying to sabotage you," said Jason. "She's trying to be your friend. She's worried about you."

"Oh, she would want you to think that, you know," I said, standing up to face Jason. "Otherwise, she wouldn't be able to manipulate you quite so easily."

"What?" Jason was incredulous. "I don't know what is up with you, but every time I talk to you, you just sound more and more paranoid. Jesus, isn't there anyone who you don't think is out to get you?"

I folded my arms over my chest too. We squared off. "I'm not paranoid," I said.

"But everything's fine. Can't you see that everything's fine? Why won't you just let things be? Why do you have to keep looking for trouble?"

"And why do you have to keep pretending like there isn't any trouble to be found, when at any second, we could be just like we were a few months agorunning in fear for our lives?"

"Let it go, for Christ's sake! We're safe."

"What if we're not?"

Jason unfolded his arms. He put his hands on my shoulders and looked deeply into my eyes. "I'd never let anything hurt you. You have to know that. If I thought there was any chance that something bad could happen to you, I would fight until"

I ripped myself away from him. "Maybe that's just it," I said. "Maybe I've been spending too long waiting for you to protect me. Maybe I need to protect myself."

"From the Sons? Azazel, most trained police officers couldn’t hold themselves against the Sons."

"You killed five of them, though," I said.

"Yeah, but the Sons trained me," said Jason.

"So, you could train me."

Jason sighed heavily. "No," he said.

"Why not?"

"I just . . ." Jason clenched his hands into fists. "I don't want to think like that anymore. I don't want you to think like that. I want to move on. I want to put all of this behind us."

"I know that's what you want," I whispered. "But that doesn't mean that just because you want it, you'll get it."

"Well, just because you think everyone's out to get you doesn't mean they are either," said Jason. "You really need to give Lilith another chance. She's trying so hard. If you could hear the way she talks about you"

"Which you hear since she's like your new best friend."

"You don't like me spending time with Lilith?"

"That's not what I said."

"Well, get used to it. I just got her a job as the new hostess at my restaurant," said Jason.

My mouth dropped open. "So you'll see her all the time. More than you'll see me."

"She's going to be around us, Azazel. It would just be so much easier if you could get along with her."

I was stunned. Jason was going to be spending half of his life with Lilith. And what was worse, he was taking her side instead of mine. Was Jason right? Was I paranoid?

I didn't think so. Somehow, this was all Lilith's fault.

* * *

When we got back to school, 2nd/3rd block had already started. Jason and I signed in at the office, telling the secretary that we'd been sick during the night, but felt better now. "Food poisoning," said Jason, a painful expression on his face. The secretary nodded at us sympathetically and wrote us passes to class. Jason and I parted ways. Even though we'd been arguing, I didn't want to be away from him. Jason and I lived together, but I felt like too many things kept us apart sometimes. School. Work. Detention.

If it hadn't been for that stuff, I wouldn't even have had to worry about Lilith and Jason hanging out, because I would actually be with the two of them. It wasn't that I really thought that Jason would do anything with Lilith. I trusted him. But Lilith was so . . . experienced. She was thin and curvy, with flaming red hair and big pouty lips. When she walked down the hall at Bramford, she was the kind of girl who turned boys' heads. I wasn't that kind of girl. Sure, I was sort of pretty in my own way. But I wasn't remarkable. Jason made such a point of bringing up the fact that I had more experience than him. What if he wanted to . . . even things up or something? And I was the only girl Jason had ever dated. Maybe he'd just settled for me because I was there. Maybe if he had a choice, he'd pick someone else. Someone prettier. Someone with less issues. Someone who wasn't constantly worried about being found and killed by the Sons. If Jason really wanted to be normal, maybe he wanted to date a normal girl. I had so much baggage . . .

I could hardly concentrate on the lecture in my English class. I tried to take notes, but my mind kept wandering. I didn't want to worry about Jason and Lilith. It felt tawdry and stereotypical. I felt like a stupid girl. But no matter how much I tried to put it out of my mind, I didn't seem to be able to. I pictured Lilith laughing as she sat next to Jason on the couch. The laughter racked her body, making her breasts bounce. She collapsed against his shoulder, still giggling. I saw it again and again, in slow motion. It was driving me insane.

I didn't even hear it when someone called me to the office over the loudspeaker. Ms. Call, the English teacher, had to come to my desk and touch me on the shoulder.

I started, staring up at her wildly. Had she asked a question? What were we even reading in English class?

"They just called you to the office," she said gently.

"Oh," I said.

"Are you sure you're feeling well?" she asked me. "Your admit slip said you were sick this morning."

I shrugged. "I'm fine," I said.

Ms. Call made a sympathetic face. "You're a good student, Azazel," she said. "I know you don't like to miss school, but your health is important."

I nodded. She was concerned for me. Cool. I wasn't paying attention in class, and I didn't even get in trouble. I excused myself and went to the office, convinced that I was in trouble for skipping Chemistry. But when I got there, they directed me to Mr. Dingle's office, where both Mr. Dingle and Hallam were waiting for me.

Great. What was going on, now? Was this about skipping Chemistry? Why was Hallam here?

"Sit down, Azazel," said Mr. Dingle, gesturing to a chair in front of his desk.

Sullenly, I did. I stole a look at Hallam. He didn't look happy.

"We're just waiting for Jason," said Mr. Dingle.

Jason? What was this about?

Right then, Jason came into the office. I looked up at him, feeling a swell of happiness at seeing him. I smiled at him. Jason didn't look at me. Great. He was still pissed about the conversation we'd had earlier. Come to think of it, so was I. I turned away, the smile dying on my lips.

Mr. Dingle directed Jason to sit down next to me. "When I discovered your living situation," said Mr. Dingle, "I decided I wanted to have a conference with your guardian."

Great. Perfect. Hallam was probably pissed at having his schedule interrupted.

"Azazel, Mr. Wakefield tells me that your parents were killed in November and that he is legally responsible for both you and your boyfriend Jason," said Mr. Dingle.

I nodded. Did he want a prize for correctly describing my living situation? I hated Mr. Dingle. I wished I had stolen his bell. I tried to catch Jason's eye and roll my eyes, but he wasn't looking at me.

"So," said Mr. Dingle, "you've had a lot of upheaval in your life recently. My concern is that you're acting out in order to garner some attention. Certainly, living in a house with a young guardian must be different than living with your parents."

Hallam surprised me by saying, "Azazel's not the problem."

What? What did he say? Hallam hated me. He'd never liked me.

Jason turned to Hallam. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Hallam folded his arms over his chest. "Honestly, Mr. Dingle," he said, "I'm surprised you've called me in about Azazel. Hasn't Jason been in at least two fights since the two of them started attending school here?"

Jason shook his head. "Hallam, this is low. If you've got an issue with me, you should talk to me about it yourself, not with the principal."

Hallam ignored him.

"Well," said Mr. Dingle, "yes, he has. But Azazel stole my bell and continues to lie about it. I know that you aren't a parent, Mr. Wakefield, but you have to see that this kind of behavior is inappropriate."

The bell was sitting on Mr. Dingle's desk.

Hallam picked it up. "Is this it?" he asked.

Mr. Dingle didn't look happy about the fact that Hallam was holding his bell. He nodded.

Hallam turned the bell over in his hands, looking at the engraving on the side. He raised his eyebrows. "Where did you get this bell?" he asked.

"I bought it at a rummage sale," said Mr. Dingle. "I liked the picture of the water. As you can see, I like to surf." He gestured to the myriad of pictures that decorated his office.

Hallam set it back down. "Interesting," he said.

"Stealing my bell was clearly an act of defiance," said Mr. Dingle. "And it has to be punished."

"So, you gave her detention, right?" asked Hallam.

"Well, yes."

"So, then what did you want to see me for?"

"I was hoping," said Mr. Dingle, "that you would support my disciplinary efforts at home."

Hallam shook his head. "Discipline?" he repeated. "We're talking about two very mature seventeen-year-olds, here. Before they became my legal charges, they were living on their own. I don't discipline them. I do my best to point them in the right direction, but that's all I can do."

"They aren't adults yet, Mr. Wakefield."

Hallam smiled tightly. "Sometimes I think they're more adult than most of the adults I interact with." He sighed. "Listen, Mr. Dingle, I'm as concerned about Jason's behavior as you are. But I don't think Azazel's as much of a problem as you think she is."

"If you're so concerned about my behavior," said Jason to Hallam, "why aren't you saying anything to me about it?"

"I'm saying things to you about it," I said. "I wish you wouldn't fight so much."

Jason didn't look happy. He pointed at Mr. Dingle. "This is none of his business," he said.

"If the two of you can't behave," said Mr. Dingle, "I'm going to have to recommend that neither of you live with Hallam anymore."

"For four months?" Jason demanded. "We'll both be eighteen by May. Why would you do that?"

Was Dingle serious? He'd try to get us taken away from Hallam?

Jason and I both looked at Hallam, trying to see how he'd take this.

Hallam just looked frustrated. "Well," he said to us both, "it sounds to me like you've got a choice. Either stop hitting people, or get separated for months in the foster system. Shouldn't be too hard for you to figure out, should it?"

Jason and I looked at each other. I didn't want to be separated from him. I reached out to take his hand, but Jason turned away. Slowly, I retracted my hand.

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Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers