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To: Edgar Weem < [email protected] >
From: Renegade Son < [email protected] >
Subject: Monthly update
Not much has changed. Jason is still behaving violently. He's been badly beating several other boys in the area, both at school and work. He's still completely and utterly devoted to Azazel.
I look for other tell-tale signs, but he seems like a normal kid otherwise. Nothing else to report.
The last time I saw my best friend Lilith, she was wearing a silk black robe and explaining to me that everyone in my entire town (including her) was a Satanist. She was telling me that my parents, my principal, and my teachers all thought that I was the Vessel of Azazel and that I was supposed to kill Jason for the greater good. The time that I'd seen her before that, I'd found out that she'd been sleeping with my then-boyfriend Toby for years. I wasn't really on speaking terms with Lilith anymore.
But there she was, sitting in the living room of our apartment in Florida, looking pretty much the same as she had months ago. Her hair was still red. Her boobs were still gigantic. And she didn't look the least bit sorry.
Standing in the doorway with Jason, I glowered at her. I'd wanted him to fill me in on the way home, but I hadn't really given him the chance to talk, because I'd spent the entire ride ranting about how I couldn't believe that Lilith had the nerve to show up at my house. If Lilith was expecting some kind of tear-filled, happy reunion with me, she had another thing coming.
"What are you doing here?" I demanded.
"Hi Zaza," she said, smiling tentatively.
The sound of my old nickname made me cringe. My parents used to call me that. "It's Azazel," I said.
"Sorry," she said.
I crossed my arms over my chest. "Well?" I said. "Why are you here?"
"Azazel," said Jason from behind me, "maybe—"
I turned on him, silencing him with a look. He backed away, making a hands-off gesture. "I'll let you two catch up," he said, and tried to duck into the kitchen, away from us.
"No way," I said. "You're not going anywhere." I clutched his arm and yanked him over to me, so that we were standing shoulder to shoulder. A united front. Against Lilith.
"You're mad," said Lilith.
"Duh," I said.
Lilith nodded. "Of course you're mad," she said. "Why wouldn't you be?"
"You screwed my boyfriend behind my back and tried to get me to kill Jason," I said. "So, yeah, I'm pretty much mad. Pretty much hoped never to see you again. Pretty much want you to get the hell out."
Lilith's face fell. Then she nodded. "Okay," she said, standing up from the couch and slinging her duffel bag over her shoulder. "I understand."
"Wait," said Jason.
What? I looked at Jason, shocked. Why was he saying that? He was supposed to be on my side.
"She ran away from home," said Jason.
"So?" I said.
"So, she's got nowhere else to go," he said.
"I don't care," I said.
"She needs help," he said.
"She doesn't deserve my help," I said.
"Why not?" he asked.
"You know why not," I said. "Because of what I just said."
"The stuff about Toby?" he asked.
"Yeah," I said.
Jason nodded. "You still care about Toby?" he asked, not looking at me.
"No," I said. It was a moot point. Toby was dead, anyhow. The Sons had killed him the same time they'd killed my parents.
"Good," said Jason, turning to look at me, "because if I remember correctly, he was big jerk who tried to rape you. Twice."
Was Jason jealous of everyone suddenly? Good God. First Jude, now Toby? How could someone be jealous of a gay guy and a dead guy? What was next? Actors on TV?
"He was a jerk," said Lilith.
I looked at her witheringly. "The last time I heard the two of you talking, you said you loved him."
"I was an idiot," said Lilith. "I guess he told both of us that he loved us, didn't he?"
"Well, yeah," I said, "but he only said that to me because the coven forced him to date me so that I would stay a virgin for the ritual. I kind of don't think that counts. He really loved you."
"Which was why he took off after you right after you and Jason left, right?" said Lilith. "That was why he ditched me and got himself killed. Because he loved me?"
Okay, point. "Right, well, like Jason said, Toby was a jerk."
"So, it's stupid to be mad at Lilith about her relationship with him, then," said Jason.
Stupid? Did Jason just call me stupid? "I don't think it's stupid, exactly," I said.
Jason made another hands-off gesture. "Bad choice of words," he admitted. "I'm just saying that Toby was never really that important to you, anyway, right?"
Well . . . "I dated him for four years," I said. "So, I mean, he was kind of important."
"But not as . . ." Jason trailed off. "Not as important as me?"
"Of course not!" I said. "God, you're insecurity is getting to me!"
"I'm not being insecure," Jason said, looking hurt. "I'm just trying to moderate this conversation between you and Lilith. So don't get pissed at me."
It was hard to be mad at Jason. I bit my lip. "Sorry," I finally muttered.
"Me too," he said. "Sometimes the Toby thing makes me defensive."
I was the first and only person Jason had ever kissed, but I'd kissed Toby before Jason. We'd talked about it a few times. Jason felt a little threatened by the specter of Toby, even though he'd been, as mentioned, a really big jerk. I crossed to Jason and squeezed his hand. He kissed me on the forehead. I looked up into his huge, brown eyes. I melted.
"Whoa," breathed Lilith.
I snapped around to look at her. For a minute, I'd kind of forgotten she was there. "What?" I said.
She shook her head. "You two are just . . . whoa." Her mouth was slightly open. "You're really in love, aren't you?"
What did that have to do with anything? I looked back at Jason. "She can't stay here," I said. "She just can't."
"Zaza, you have no idea how sorry I am about everything," said Lilith.
"Don't call me that!"
"Bramford's apparently pretty horrible since your parents died and we left," said Jason. "The coven has gotten oppressive."
"I don't care," I said. I didn't.
Jason kept going. "They're convinced that they weren't successful in killing me because they weren't worthy. So everyone's been forced to participate in really bizarre rituals. Lilith's lucky to get out."
That did sound kind of awful. "So what?" I said, not ready to back down. "You don't want to be a Satanist anymore?"
"I never wanted to be a Satanist," said Lilith. "It was just peer pressure, you know? Everybody else was doing it. I wanted to run off with Toby. You heard me in the bathroom the night of Homecoming."
She had said something like that, hadn't she? Damn it. I didn't want Lilith around. Here in Bradenton, I was my own person. I was crazy and free and fun. Lilith would just remind me of who I'd been. Naďve, sweet, innocent. I wasn't that girl anymore. And I didn't need Lilith around to remind me of her.
I sighed. "If she stayed here, it couldn't be forever."
"No, I know that," said Lilith. "Just until I find something else. Get established. Maybe a few weeks. A month."
"Fine," I said.
"Really?" said Lilith. "Thank you so much." She leaped off the couch and hugged me. I didn't hug her back.
Finally, she released me. She stepped back, looking embarrassed. I didn't care. Lilith could stay here, but it didn't mean I was going to forgive her. It didn't mean we were going to be best friends anymore.
"What's Hallam think about it?" I asked Jason.
"Um, Hallam hasn't been home," said Jason.
"So, it's just been you and Lilith here?" I asked. "Talking? For hours?"
"Yeah," said Jason, giving me a funny look.
Lilith used to think Jason was really attractive. She used to joke about trying to have sex with him. Lilith was, well, promiscuous. I narrowed my eyes.
"Let me handle Hallam," said Jason.
Hallam wasn't pleased with the idea of Lilith crashing on our couch, but he eventually gave in. He said Lilith wouldn't have much privacy in our living room. I offered to give Lilith my room and stay with Jason. Hallam, of course, vetoed that idea immediately. Given the option of Jason and I "living in sin" or Lilith not having privacy, he decided her privacy was the lesser of two evils.
Truthfully, I didn't want to share a bedroom with Jason because I wanted to have sex. Not just because I wanted to have sex, anyway. I liked falling asleep with him. Snuggling in his arms, feeling his smooth skin against mine. I liked waking up with him. I just longed to be as close to Jason as I could, whenever I could.
We got Lilith some sheets and made up the couch for her to sleep on. By this time, it was pretty late, and we all had to be up early the next morning. Hallam had his early class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. He also had early office hours on Tuesdays. On Thursdays, he didn't go in until ten. Sometimes, on Thursdays, Hallam slept in, and Jason and I would sneak into the shower together. But more often than not, Hallam just woke up early anyway. He said it was habit.
We all went to sleep. The apartment was quiet, and I could hear Lilith shifting around on the couch, trying to get comfortable. We'd gotten the couch at Goodwill, because it had been cheap. It was less than comfortable. I tried to feel a little sorry for Lilith, but I just couldn't do it.
I was exhausted, and I fell asleep almost immediately after that. I dreamed.
In my dream, I was in the basement of my parents' house, wearing a silky black robe. The hood was over my eyes. The room was lit only with candles, and they flickered eerily. My hands were tied together. I was drunk. I stumbled as I tried to run away, but I was surrounded by other people, similarly clad in black robes. They caught me. They held me. I struggled, but they were stronger than me. Their hoods were over their faces, so I couldn't see who was who.
I elbowed random robed people. They fell back, but there was always someone else to take their place, holding me fast. They were chanting, intoning something in another language that sounded ancient and evil.
"Stop," I slurred. "Stop. I think I'm going to throw up."
Lilith was in front of me, lowering her hood. "Zaza," she said, "we have to finish the ritual."
Someone grabbed me from behind. I twisted, trying to wriggle out of his grasp, but I couldn't break free. "Hold still," said the person holding me, and I recognized his voice.
I struggled harder, my heart racing. But Toby was pulling me, dragging me down on the ground. Toby was on top of me, the weight of his body smashing my bones, suffocating me. I really thought I was going to throw up. I was so drunk.
"Toby, stop," I pleaded.
Toby didn't listen. His legs were between my legs, forcing them open.
I screamed. "Jason!" I yelled. Where was Jason? Jason always saved me. I needed him. Where was he?
I pushed Toby's hood out of the way, but when I looked at him, it wasn't Toby under the hood. It was Jason. He was leering at me as he fumbled with the buttons of my robe.
"No!" I screamed and with all of my might, I pushed Jason/Toby off of me and I ran.
I scrambled up the steps in the basement, and flung open the door at the top.
Outside the basement, I was on the beach in Bradenton. I wasn't wearing anything except my bikini, and the breeze from the ocean whipped around me, pulling goose bumps out of my skin. I looked around, confused.
Jude was waiting for me. He took my hand. "Let's get you home," he said.
I woke up out of breath, my heart beating out of my chest. Well. That was a new nightmare.
For a few minutes, I just lay still under the covers, the fear paralyzing me. I wanted to get up and go crawl in bed with Jason, but I couldn't move. So I didn't. I stared at the ceiling until sleep pulled me under again.
The next morning, my alarm woke me at 6:15. I slapped it off and lay back on the bed. I didn't want to get up. But I dragged myself out of bed and into the shower. I got the first shower every morning, because I had to blow dry my hair, which I did in my bedroom while Jason was showering. Hallam's class wasn't until eight, so he showered after Jason. He grumbled a lot, because he ran out of hot water at the end of his shower.
Lilith was asleep on the couch, so we tiptoed around her as we left for school. Jason and I walked the five blocks to Bayshore High School every morning. In the morning, it was fine, but sometimes, in the afternoon, when we walked home from school, it was eighty-five degrees and humid. I often arrived home sweaty and gross. Whenever I could, I asked Jude for a ride home.
Bayshore High School was much bigger than my old high school. Nearly every day that I walked inside, I felt a little overwhelmed by its size and by the amount of people that went there. It was also strange to go to a school that was landscaped with palm trees. It made me feel like I was living on a television show or something. Of course, all the schools on television shows were in California. Florida definitely wasn't California.
Everything was different in Florida than it had been in West Virginia. We were still on block scheduling, but Bayshore was on an AB schedule, which meant we had different classes every other day. In West Virginia, I'd been in Honors classes, but due to the fact we hadn't requested our transcripts from Bramford, Jason and I were in general classes at Bayshore. General classes were very, very different. It was hard to learn anything, because our teachers spent most of their time trying to get the class to be quiet and listen. No one seemed particularly interested in doing that. Also, I felt like there was more work assigned in general classes, but it was all busy work. It was like the teachers had given up on us and just wanted to keep us from making trouble.
I was making good grades, though. So was Jason. Sometimes, Hallam asked us questions about college, but neither of us had really done anything on that front. At this point, it was practically too late. Back in Bramford, I'd sent in my application for WVU in the fall. I'd been so sure that I'd end up in Morgantown. Toby and I would both be there. And Lilith. My life had been all planned out then. Simple. Easy. Now, with the Sons and the Satanists and Michaela Weem, things like college didn't seem that important. I was alive, wasn't I? That was all that was important.
Jason and I arrived at school at 7:35, ten minutes before first period. We walked each other to our lockers, dropping off our book bags and getting our books for first block. Then we parted ways (without kissing, because PDA was strongly frowned upon) because we had different classes on different sides of the school.
It was an Odd day (or an A day), so my first class was history with Mr. Sutherland. Jason had Mr. Sutherland too, but on Even days (B days). I couldn't figure out why they called the schedules Odd and Even. They didn't coincide with the day of the week. It didn't make any sense at all. Mr. Sutherland also taught AP History, but neither Jason nor I had any AP classes. Still, Mr. Sutherland seemed to expect a little more of his general classes. Maybe it was because he was from England, and they had higher standards there.
Mr. Sutherland really liked me, to the point that Jude was always teasing me about being a teacher's pet. Jude had first block with me on Odd days. Mr. Sutherland thought that I was "brilliant" and "talented," and he couldn't understand how I'd ended up in a general history class. I appreciated that he had such a high opinion of me, but sometimes, the way he fawned over me was really, really annoying. I blamed him for single-handedly making everyone in my history class hate me.
I met Jude at the door to Mr. Sutherland's class. We made our way to our seats the back corner. Mr. Sutherland wasn't much for seating charts, which was good, as far as I was concerned. If I got separated from Jude, this class would be unbearable.
"Tell me all about this Lilith chick," said Jude as we sat down.
God. How could I? There were some things I just couldn’t share with everyone. It made me sound nuts to say that my family had turned out to be Satanists. No one would believe me if I said that Jason and I had been chased across the country by a secret society bent of global domination. I shrugged. "She was my best friend in West Virginia," I said.
As far as Jude knew, I'd moved here because my parents died. That was it.
"Was?" asked Jude.
"Well, she was sleeping with my boyfriend, so I kind of wasn't speaking to her anymore."
"She was sleeping with Jason?" Jude asked.
The bell rang.
"Excuse me," said Mr. Sutherland in his British accent.
No one listened to him. "No," I said. "Not Jason."
"Class!" said Mr. Sutherland. "Quiet down for announcements."
The room still didn't get quiet.
"A different boyfriend?" asked Jude.
"Yeah," I said.
"Who you're not dating anymore," said Jude. "So what's the big?"
Why didn't anybody understand this? "She betrayed me," I said. "I don't trust her."
"Next person to speak loses free time," said Mr. Sutherland.
Free time was Mr. Sutherland's way of keeping his classes in line. Everyone got five minutes to chat at the end of class, unless they misbehaved. Losing free time meant you had to do menial tasks for Mr. Sutherland like passing out papers or cleaning up trash from the floor or emptying the pencil sharpener.
Everyone got quiet.
"Thank you," said Mr. Sutherland.
The loud speaker beeped. "Good morning Bayshore High. This is your principal, Mr. Dingle."
He started out announcements like that every day. Like we didn't know who he was. And if you dealt with teenagers every day, would you really advertise the fact your last name was Dingle?
Mr. Dingle was a strange man. He was young, blonde, and tan. He always seemed very excited, and he carried a bell around with him, one of those silver ones with a wooden handle. If students were doing something he didn't approve of, he would ring the bell in their faces and say, "Now, now. Let's make a better choice, okay?" He'd rung the bell at Jason and me many times for kissing in the hallway. I really didn't like him.
A soft murmur began in the classroom as students began to talk again.
"You think she'd do it again?" Jude whispered to me. "Are you worried about Jason?"
Was I—? That was silly. "Of course not," I said. Jason would never do that. He was devoted to me.
"Jenna, that's your free time," said Mr. Sutherland.
I shut my mouth.
Mr. Dingle continued, "The most important announcement this morning is that my bell has been stolen."
Really? That was great! Awesome. I hated that bell.
Other students seemed to share my sentiment, since a few laughed and one guy emitted a whoop.
"Class!" warned Mr. Sutherland.
"Anyone with any information about the whereabouts of my bell should contact me or your teachers. When I find out who has taken the bell, he or she will be punished severely."
I rolled my eyes. Everyone in class laughed.
"That rocks," said Jude.
I grinned. "Yeah."
The entire classroom had erupted in conversation.
"Quiet!" yelled Mr. Sutherland, but it was a lost cause. Any further announcements were drowned out by the rest of the class talking.
"So," Jude said, "why is Lilith here?"
I sighed, picking up my purse to look for a pen. "She ran away from home. She's staying with us for a few weeks."
"Aren't her parents going to be looking for her?"
I shrugged. "She's eighteen. I don't know what they can do."
I couldn't wait until Jason and I were both eighteen, which wouldn't be until the late spring. Jason's birthday was soon, but mine wasn't until May. When that happened, we wouldn't need Hallam anymore. We could move out and be on our own.
I searched through my purse with my hands, not really looking at it. I felt for the small cylindrical plastic of my pen. Instead, my hand brushed cold metal. What was that?
I pulled it out of my purse to look at it, and everyone got quiet suddenly.
Dammit. It was Mr. Dingle's bell.
How had it gotten in my purse?
I looked at Jude, confusion and surprise all over my face.
He grinned at me. "Way to go, Azazel!" he said, applauding.
The rest of the class joined in, cheering. Well. On the plus side, maybe they wouldn't hate me anymore.
Mr. Sutherland was staring at me, slack-jawed. He looked crushed. After all, here I was, his star student, a delinquent. Except for the fact that I hadn't taken the bell! How had it gotten in my purse in the first place?
Mr. Sutherland smiled. "Well, Azazel, I guess we'll be spending some afternoons together." And he actually looked excited at the prospect. Eew. Mr. Sutherland ran afterschool detention.
I stared at the bell in my hands. Where had this bell come from?
"I'm going to have to write you a referral," said Mr. Sutherland.
Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers