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michaela666 (6:33:02): You're going to see her today, right?
aird92 (6:33:44): everyday, u know that.
michaela666 (6:34:12): It worries me. If she figures out what you've done, there could be bad repercussions.
aird92 (6:34:53): u worry about everything. she doesn't suspect anything.
michaela666 (6:35:33): And Jason? Does he suspect anything?
aird92 (06:35:48): stop worrying. geez!!!
Mr. Dingle turned the bell over and over in his hands. "This is very simple, Azazel. Just tell me how you got the bell."
He didn't believe me. I didn't blame him. It sounded like something stupid that a kid would say to get out of trouble. "It just showed up in my purse, I swear," I said.
Mr. Dingle's office was covered in pictures of him holding a surf board. Where in God's name did he go surfing? We were on the Gulf. There weren't any waves here! Sometimes he was with other guys with surfboards. Sometimes he was with different blonde, pretty girls. Weird.
"You can't expect me to believe that," he said.
"I know it sounds stupid," I said. "And I really hate your stupid bell. But I didn't take it. I've been framed."
Mr. Dingle shook his head. "Why would someone do that?"
Why would someone do that? As I'd been walking up the office, I'd had time to really look at the bell. It was silver, with a wooden handle. Nothing weird about that at all. But there was something about the bell I'd never noticed before. On the front of the bell, engraved into the metal was a picture of the sun, rising over the ocean.
The Rising Sun.
Someone was trying to give me a message. The Sons. But I couldn't very well tell Mr. Dingle that, now could I?
We went round and round for over an hour, which was kind of cool, because it meant that I missed the rest of Mr. Sutherland's class. On the other hand, I was freaked out, expecting the Sons to bust through the windows of Mr. Dingle's office at any second. They'd be in black. The glass would shatter, flying out, cutting our skin. It would be quick. One gun shot in Mr. Dingle's head. One in mine. We'd slump dead over his desk, blood seeping into his papers. The Sons would use silencers, so no one else would ever even know. At some point, one of the secretaries would come in. She'd scream.
But that didn't happen. Instead, Mr. Dingle assigned me a week of detention, starting tomorrow, so I could arrange transportation if necessary. He told me he was going to call my parents.
"My parents are dead," I told him.
He looked a little taken aback when I said that. Sorry for me. That pissed me off. How dare Mr. Dingle feel sorry for me? But after checking my records, he promised he'd call Hallam. Wonderful. Like Hallam needed another reason to hate me.
I returned to my 2nd/3rd block class. Apparently, word had spread. I was like a celebrity or something. Whenever I walked in, everyone started clapping and cheering. Our teacher, Ms. Ritter, calmed everyone down as best as she could. I sat down in my regular seat and tried to concentrate on the math lesson. All I could think about were the Sons. They'd put that bell in my purse for a reason. Why? What were they planning? Why were they messing with me?
After 2nd/3rd, Jason and I had lunch. It was 10:30 at that point. We had the earliest lunch shift in the school. I was never hungry at 10:30, so I usually just bought some yogurt from the vending machine. Jason, however, being the growing boy that he was, ate lunch. It kind of pissed me off, but I was used to it. I'd grown up in house full of teenage boys. They ate. A lot. And they never got fat, they just got taller. And taller. When I'd first met Jason, he'd been about 5'10". Now he was pushing six feet.
Jude and I didn't share a lunch shift, but I'd see him in 6th/7th block. That meant that I sat alone, waiting for Jason to come back with his tray every day. Except today, everyone in school was stopping to congratulate me on stealing Mr. Dingle's bell. At first, I tried to explain that I didn't know how I'd got it, but no one believed me, so eventually, I just started smiling and shrugging like I was proud of myself.
Jason sat down with me, carrying a tray loaded with chicken fingers and corn. "What the hell?" he greeted me.
"I didn't do it," I said. "It just appeared in my purse."
Did he think I would lie to him? "Really," I said. "But I think I know who did do it."
"Jude?" he asked.
"What?" I glared at him. "Jude didn't do it. Why would you even think that?"
Jason shrugged. "So who did it then?"
"The Sons," I said.
"What?" said Jason. "Why would the Sons steal Mr. Dingle's bell?"
"Have you ever looked closely at that bell? It's got a picture of a rising sun on it. They're sending me a message. I don't know what it means, but it's not good."
Jason took a bite of a chicken finger. "You're paranoid."
"You don't believe me?"
"It doesn't make any sense. Sorry. The Sons wouldn't steal a bell to send you a message. They'd just . . . I don't know . . . kill you."
"But the sun—"
"So how did the bell get in my purse?"
"I don't know," said Jason.
"Someone set me up. Who would do that?"
"I don't know."
"It's not like anyone hates me around here. No one even knows I exist."
At that moment, two girls stopped by my table. "You're Azazel, right?" one asked.
"You stole the bell?"
I rolled my eyes. "That's me."
"Awesome," said one.
"Yeah, you rock," said the other.
"Thanks," I said.
They walked away.
"You were saying?" asked Jason.
"Well, no one knew who I was before this," I said. "I'm telling you. The Sons are the only thing that makes any sense."
Jason shook his head. "I know you're always freaked out about them, but you're wrong. And it doesn't make any sense."
I couldn't believe it. I had clearly been given a message from the Sons. A warning. And Jason didn't believe me. "It does make sense."
"No," said Jason, "it doesn't. Look, the Sons know to leave us alone. The minute they try anything, Hallam will go public with the information that Edgar Weem is my father. Weem would never take that chance."
"What if someone's working without Weem's knowledge?" I said.
"Impossible. He's too high up in the Council for something like that to happen. And he protects his own interests." Jason reached across the table and took my hand. "Hey, Azazel, I know it's hard for you. If there was any way that I go back in time and protect you from all of this, I would. I'm so sorry that any of this ever happened to you. And I know it scares you. But it's over. Okay? It's over. The Sons aren't chasing us. The Satanists are dead. We're safe. Okay? We're safe now."
I squeezed his hand. I wanted to believe him. I really did. But . . . "What if we're not?" I asked.
"We are," he said.
I pulled my hand back. I hugged myself. "I want you to take me to the shooting range again."
Jason put down his chicken finger. "Jesus, Azazel, not this again."
"You haven't taken me in weeks," I said.
"Because you don't need to know how to shoot a gun," he said.
"I do so," I said. "I need to, even if no one's after us, so that I can feel safe."
"We went twice a week for a month," said Jason. "You know the basics. You're fine. We don't need to go again."
"What if I get out of practice?" I said. "And my aim still isn't very good. I need to shoot more or else I'm going to lose everything I know."
Jason sighed. "All I want is for us to be normal kids. But you can't let this go. You keep living like we're still being chased. We're not."
"Jason . . ." I trailed off. He made me feel bad. I knew that all Jason had ever wanted was a normal life. I didn't want to be the person who was ruining that for him.
We were quiet for a while. Jason shoveled corn into his mouth. I opened my yogurt and began to eat. A few more students stopped by to congratulate me on my stealing of Mr. Dingle's bell.
"I have detention," I said when they were gone. "For a week."
"That sucks," commented Jason.
"Yeah, it really does. Because I didn't do it."
Jason shook his head. "Why would someone frame you like that?"
I kept my mouth shut. I knew why. If Jason didn't want to believe me . . . But maybe he was right. Maybe I was being paranoid. After all, I was the only one who had nightmares. Jason was fine. He was well-adjusted. He loved living in sunny Florida and going to class every day. For him, our life was like paradise. For me, it was . . . Well, it wasn't paradise.
After school, I found Jude and asked if he minded giving Jason and I a ride home. He didn't mind. I met Jason at our regular meeting spot in the front of the school. Jason smiled when he saw me, but his smile faded when he saw Jude.
"Hi Jason," Jude greeted brightly.
"Hi," Jason muttered.
I wished Jason wouldn't be so blatantly rude to Jude.
"Jude's going to give us a ride home," I said.
"We can walk," said Jason.
"It's too hot," I said.
"It's not a problem," said Jude. "Really."
Jason shrugged his backpack further up on his shoulder. "Fine," he said. "Let's go."
The three of us trudged silently to the student parking lot and Jude's car. Jude drove an old Ford Aspire, which he'd painted bright purple. I offered to sit in the back, but Jason shook his head at me. He didn't want to sit up front with Jude. So Jason squeezed into the back seat of the car, and I sat up front. Jude turned on the car and blasted the air conditioning. He backed the car up, and we pulled out of the student parking lot.
"So, what did I miss in Mr. Sutherland's class?" I asked.
"Not much," said Jude. "Everyone was so excited about the fact you stole the bell that not much got accomplished. How'd you do it, anyway?"
"I didn't," I said. "Someone set me up."
"Did you do it, Jude?" Jason asked pointedly from the back.
"Me?" asked Jude. "Why would I get Azazel in trouble? She's my BFF."
In the backseat, Jason snorted.
I turned around and glared at him.
"Why would someone set you up?" Jude asked.
"Yeah," said Jason. "Why, Azazel?"
I ignored Jason. "I don't know," I said. "Probably because they didn't want to get in trouble for doing it." It was a message from the Sons! Why didn't Jason believe me?
"That's screwed up," said Jude. "Sometimes people are idiots."
"Yeah," I said.
"So, anyway, everybody was really excited about it," Jude continued. "And Mr. Sutherland barely got to talk about the kidnapping of the Limburger baby or whatever."
"Lindbergh baby," Jason corrected.
"Right," said Jude. "So, did you tell Dingle that you didn't do it?"
"Yeah," I said. "But he didn't believe me. I have detention for the rest of the week."
"Oh no," said Jude. "That totally sucks. What about Thursday? You're supposed to work right after school."
"I'm just going to ask Mindy to trade shifts with me," I said. "Think she will?"
"Probably," said Jude. "I'm really sorry that you have detention. Especially for something you didn't do. And I'm going to miss you on Thursday. Dammit."
"Yeah, it blows," I agreed. "So who's the Lindbergh baby?"
"Charles Lindbergh's son," said Jason from the back.
"Who's Charles Lindbergh?" I asked.
"I don't know," said Jude.
"We've been talking about him in class all week," said Jason.
"Really?" I asked. "It's hard to concentrate in that class. Everyone's so noisy. They always get Mr. Sutherland off topic by asking him about his life when he lived in England."
"Oh, right," said Jude. "Lindbergh like flew a plane over the Atlantic in the 1930s, right?"
"Right," said Jason, sounding disgusted with both of us.
"So what happened to his baby?" I asked.
"It got kidnapped," said Jude.
"Oh," I said. "That sucks. Did they get him back?"
"I don't know. Mr. Sutherland didn't get to that," said Jude. "Apparently, at first, they thought it was a practical joke, because Lindbergh liked to hide the baby in the closet and pretend he didn't know where he was."
"That's kind of messed up," I said. "Who would hide a baby as a joke?"
"The guy flew across the Atlantic after six other people had died trying to do it. Maybe he was just crazy," offered Jason.
I laughed. Jude didn't.
Hmm. Maybe this dislike was a two-way street.
"I always thought," said Jason, "that would be a good way to pull off a kidnapping."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I mean, kidnap someone in their own house," said Jason. "Tie them up and knock them out, and keep them in their own attic."
"How would you get in and out of the house?" I asked.
"I don't know," said Jason. "Never worked that part out. But it would be super cool, after you got the ransom money, to be like, 'Yeah, they were two stories above you the whole time.'"
"That would be impossible to pull off," said Jude. "Besides, why would you want to kidnap someone?"
"I wouldn't," said Jason. "Not really."
We had arrived at our apartment. Jude parked the car in the parking lot. I wanted to invite him in, but I knew Jason wouldn't be cool with it. So I just said goodbye to Jude, and Jason and I got out of the car.
When we got inside, Lilith wasn't there. She'd left a note that she was off job hunting. Hallam was still at work, so we had the apartment to ourselves for a while. Usually, I got right to work on my homework after school. I should have today, especially since I was working later. I had to go in for about four hours that evening. But I wasn't feeling like doing homework. I was frustrated and confused about the turn of events at school. I wanted to talk to Jason about it, but after what he'd said at lunch today, I felt like it would be a bad idea. Instead, I hunted through the refrigerator for a snack.
Jason dropped off his books in his bedroom and joined me in the kitchen.
"Hey," he said. "I'm sorry about the way I reacted to what you said at lunch."
I closed the refrigerator. "You mean you think I could be right about the Sons?"
"Well," said Jason, "no. I don't think they're after us. But I'm sorry if I made you feel stupid for thinking it. After everything that's happened to us, I can see why you'd be jumping at shadows."
"I don't think that's what I'm doing," I said. "There was an engraving of a rising sun on that bell."
"And that's a weird coincidence," said Jason. "It's understandable that you'd freak out. And it is weird. That bell ending up in your purse."
"Why do you think it happened?" I asked.
"Somebody's idea of a practical joke, I guess," said Jason. "Like you said. Maybe that guy from the party that I beat up."
"You think?" I said.
"He'd be holding a grudge against you."
"Who was he? Does he go to our school?"
"Jude said you put him in the hospital. Would he have even been at school today?"
Jason shrugged again. "Maybe he got one of his friends to do it. There were a bunch of people at that party."
Maybe Jason was right. There was probably a better explanation than the Sons of the Rising Sun being after us. "You really think we're safe?" I said.
"I'm sure of it," he said.
I sighed. He was probably right. I was overly excitable. That dream I'd had last night hadn't helped things either. "I had a nightmare last night," I said.
"The one about your parents?" Jason asked.
"No," I said. I explained it to him. But I left out the part where Toby turned into Jason. I didn't want Jason to think that any part of me, even subconsciously, was ever afraid of him. "It was probably just because Lilith showed up," I said.
"It sounds horrible," he said. "I'm sorry I wasn't there."
"I wanted to come crawl into bed with you," I admitted, "but I was so scared. And I knew it would just piss Hallam off."
Jason folded me into his arms. "Screw Hallam," he whispered into my ear. "If you need me, you come to me. Don't let him stop you."
I hugged him back, liking how safe I felt with arms around me. His strong, strong arms. I snuggled against his chest. Jason stroked my hair. He kissed my forehead.
I looked up at him, into his eyes. My breath caught in my throat. He was so beautiful. Looking at him, close like this, I was so overwhelmed by how gorgeous he was. And he was mine. My beautiful, strong, wonderful Jason. His head dipped down and our lips met.
His lips were soft, supple against mine. But his arms held me close against him, pulling me tight against his body. I touched his neck, followed the outline of the muscles in his shoulders with my fingertips. He ran his hands over my back, my waist. His hands around my rib cage, I felt so small. I kissed him harder, parting his lips with my tongue.
Jason made a little noise in the back of his throat. He broke away for a minute. "How long do we have until Hallam comes back?" he whispered.
"Almost an hour," I said.
"Your room or mine?" he asked, gazing into my eyes hungrily.
Less than fifteen minutes later, we were in my bedroom when we heard the front door opening. We tensed against each other. Jason clenched his jaw. "I'm going to kill him," he muttered.
I sighed and kissed him again. "Maybe," I said, "if we're just really quiet . . ."
Jason kissed me. "He'll kill us," he said.
"Yeah," I said. Stupid Hallam.
A voice called out my name from the living room. But it wasn't Hallam.
It was Lilith.
Stupid Lilith. Grr. Jason and I never had any time alone together. And here she was, ruining everything.
"Augh," I groaned. "It's Lilith."
Jason sat up. "Guess we need to see what she wants."
Lilith was moving through the house, calling my name. She knocked on my door. "Azazel?" she asked.
"Yeah?" I said, trying to sound as annoyed as I felt, but finding that there was no tone of voice quite strong enough.
"It's me," she said.
"One second," I said. Jason and I put ourselves back in order, and I opened the door. "Hi, Lilith." I glared at her.
"Oh," she said. "Was I interrupting something?"
I didn't answer.
"I'm so sorry," she said.
"It's okay," said Jason from behind me, straightening the edge of his shirt. "You didn't know."
Why was Jason telling her it was okay? It was not okay. It was anything but okay. I wished like hell that Lilith was not in my house. "What do you need?" I asked her.
"I just . . ." she trailed off. "You know, maybe I should go watch some TV or something."
"No," said Jason, "don't be silly."
Don't be silly?! What was wrong with him?
"It's too late," I said. "Besides, it would be weird with you here. Just tell me what you need."
"I was wondering if I could use your computer?" she asked. "To check email and stuff?"
"Fine," I said. "It's in the living room. Knock yourself out." She could see the damned thing. Why come ask me about it?
Lilith looked at the carpet. "Um . . . I don't know the password."
I sighed heavily, but I gave her the password.
"Thanks," said Lilith. "You guys go back to what you were doing." She pulled the door closed.
What we were doing? Not bloody likely. I looked at Jason. He looked at me. He shrugged. "Soon," he said.
"It's been like three weeks," I said.
"I know that," he said. He kissed my forehead. Then he left my bedroom.
I plopped down on my bed.
"Azazel?" called Lilith from the living room.
"What?" I demanded.
"Do you mind if I sign on to the AOL Instant Messenger?"
"No," I said. "No, that's fine. Do whatever you want."
Clearly, she would anyway.
Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers