"Why are you avoiding me?" Everlynn's breath tickled my ear and loose tendrils of hair curled across the nape of my neck.
"I'm not avoiding you," I denied, staring intently at the computer screen. Mrs Crocket had ordered our class to work on our coursework, using the computers provided in the second level of the library, or to bring our own. She and Hawkeye the librarian were monitoring everything we did; except, of course, the head girl and apparently the German student.
"You are lying." Everlynn huffed, a peppermint cloud teasing the corner of my lips, as she perched on the edge of the desk. The cubicle was the furthest away from the upper-level door and staircase, boxed in by the wall and a plywood partition; unlike the others, it only had room for one chair and a student squeezed onto the table beside the computer monitor.
"Am not." Sucking my bottom lip between my teeth, less it protruded in a childish pout, I dragged my nails over the keyboard and reread the third paragraph of my coursework, again.
Everlynn crossed her legs; a rip in her jeans flashed a strip of her pale thigh, before she clasped her hands in her lap. I should put you in detention for indecent clothing, then you'd leave me alone, wouldn't you?
"Besides, if I were avoiding you, don't you think I would do a better job at it?" Adjusting the pen speared through the topknot at the back of my head, I continued where I had left off on the coursework essay.
"Arrogance can make you assume I would leave you to your work," she retorted, studying a fresh set of scratches across the back of her left hand. "But I have an ahnung, a hunch, that it is not the case, no?" My fingers faltered on the keyboard and she pressed on: "You were amicable three days passed; we played games and enjoyed ourselves with your friends. What has changed?"
My arms crossed of their own regard, as I pushed my chair back a few inches and slowly filled my lungs with air too sweet to deny. "Why are you here?"
She curled her hands around the edge of the desk beside her thighs. "I think I made it quite clear why I'm here."
"No, I didn't mean that…" Sandbags of nerves weighed heavily upon my shoulders, slipping through cracks in my chest and filled the pit of my stomach. "I meant you and your father… Why are you here?"
Everlynn stilled, as That Secret shifted and reformed on the corners of her lips. "Why are you asking me this?" She murmured, "you have had all this time to ask and only now think to do so?"
"Well pardon me for having other things on my mind," I griped, as That Secret slithered into the creases of her frown and out of sight. "Finding out you're part of another world you traverse to through mirrors tends to occupy one's mind, don't you think?"
Her boots dropped back onto the floor, fingers curling around the arms of my chair. "What do you mean by this?" She asked, tilting her face a fraction closer like it'd help discover the truth in my eyes.
The back of the chair dug into my neck, failing at increasing the distance between us. "Not until you tell me why you and your father are in Halton."
She reared her head, eyelids drooping across hazel eyes. "We deal with creatures of The Faed, Alice. What else?"
Heat coiled in my chest, arisen in my fingers where they brushed against Everlynn's. Concentrating on the plastic biting into my palms, I eased forward and scrabbled to peek through a hole in her wall. "You could put politicians to shame, Everlynn, but right now I don't have the time nor the inclination for ambiguity. Just tell me what you're doing here."
"Why on earth would I do that?"
"Because it's…" Licking my lips, I took a leap of faith and prayed it would work in my favour. "Because it's me, Everlynn, we made a pinky promise. Why move to another country when there are plenty of other Faedslayer clans in England?"
She drew in a breath and held it. Thoughts were tossed back and forth, fight or flight, cave in or deflect. Could she trust me enough after so little time? We had proven to each other the extent of our promise, receiving bruises and cuts and scars alike. Her answer would undoubtedly be a turning point in our tremulous friendship.
Curiosity reared its ugly head once more, tainted with a compassion I rarely shared outside of my family and friends. I wanted to know Everlynn, understand why she did what she did and how her scars came to be. And yet, beneath it all was the forever present fear. Like a murky pond, apparently bottomless, but shallow nonetheless in the scant knowledge I had. Would she treat me any different if she knew my origins? Would I be hunted should I choose the Faedlings?
Can I trust her?
In actuality, could I trust anyone? Mama befriended Dietrich, knowing it could put me in danger, hadn't told me of my Halfling blood even – the one person a child is expected to explicitly trust. Then there was Kyde, the only one to be honest, and yet I knew next to nothing about him, about his connection to my father and about my part in The Faed.
"We came here because of a rise in Faedling activity." Everlynn spoke softly; each word was a stepping stone across the chasm between us. Her eyes lowered, passing over my lips, before coming to rest on her hands beneath my own. "My family is renowned for our ability to execute any orders given without excessive casualties and disturbances in the populace."
"So you're discreet?" She nodded, as I licked my lips and forced my hands to lie still. "What kind of disturbances? Like…Kyde?"
She hummed noncommittally and withdrew, her fingers leaving a residual tingle on my skin. "Not at first," she admitted, "we, my father and I, concern ourselves with humans on the brink of awakening to The Faed, that is why we have not removed Kyde…yet."
There was something in her eyes. The daunting brightness, the inadvertent avoidance of my own that screamed: Lies! Lies! Lies! About what in particular, I couldn't tell.
"Okay…" Pursing my lips, I drummed my fingers across the arms of the chair and fished for another unobtrusive question. "So how do you tell there's a kid about to meet their Faedling?"
She tossed her hair over her shoulders, adopting a superior air. "Our clans have ways," she answered, "we are given the location and possible Sleepers, those about to wake, and try to help in any way we can."
"And if a Faedling, or other creatures happen to be around, you kill them," I stated, as my brain shifted gear and kicked into overdrive. If a human Consumes their Faedling, do they then join a slayers clan? If they don't succeed, is the Faedling killed? How do they know they know who is a Sleeper?
Retracing our first encounter, her odd behaviour popped up more than ever. Her terror of seeing something in the mirror, in both my home and Naomi's room and then her attachment to Zane; in some obtuse way, it made sense. Had she repeated the same tricks and received promising results?
"When you came over for dinner…you saw something in the mirrors, and at Naomi's room," I murmured, seeing her in a new light. "That was you trying to figure out if I was a Sleeper?"
"Ja." She flushed and shrugged unapologetically. "We observed and found potential…we were right."
"Yes." Carefully skirting the topic, I added: "So this means your relationship with Zane is purely business?"
"Well, yes. Friendship is a form of relationship, isn't it?" Suddenly feeling hot and claustrophobic in the cubicle, I pushed my chair back a fraction further and peered around the side. Estella and Carla were preoccupied with Youtube and Facebook, headphones plugged into their computers.
Everlynn laughed from deep within her throat, the sound crawling down my spine. "Business, at first," she admitted, "then it has become a friendship now we have gotten to know one another."
"I see…" Embarrassed by the tidal wave of relief her answer brought, I inspected the creases in my skirt and picked off non-existent lint. "His birthday is in November… How can he see The Faed now? He can, can't he? Is his parents even aware of what'll happen if he…"
"He will not fail," Everlynn assured me, with an accompanying smile. "You should speak with him, knowing you are going through the same as he will ease his worries."
I doubt that very much. "So he can see The Faed? Even though he isn't yet eighteen?" I asked, wondering if others with a Faedling were like him. I couldn't use myself as an example for obvious reasons and it wasn't like I knew of any Sleepers walking around.
She inclined her head. "Yes, a human with a surviving Faedling who is introduced to The Faed and its einwohner, inhabitants, will become aware. Although the Faedling cannot do anything until they are of age, a Sleeper."
Zane's animosity, jealousy and overall avoidance of my company were making startling sense. Dietrich and Everlynn had assumed I knew of The Faed since the beginning, my friendship with Kyde evidence enough, and in turn had told Zane. He was being childish and horrendously ill informed, but I couldn't blame him.
I can still be pissed off though. I grabbed my bag and packed away my work, shutting down the computer and ignoring Everlynn's inquisitive gaze. I was at fault, allowing the feud to run on for so long and not trusting Zane enough to speak with him sooner; something I intended to rectify immediately.
Apparently sensing where my thoughts had taken flight, Everlynn slid off of the desk and checked her watch. "Class is almost over, Zane should be-"
"In Maths, no doubt kept behind by Mrs Zimmerman for eating Skittles again," I interjected, swinging my satchel across my shoulder.
She nodded and loitered uncertainly in the cubicle. If she came with me, then I'd have a buffer to deflect Zane's attitude, but then it could also play out to bite me in the arse. The decision was made for me, however, when she turned on her heel and walked away without another word.
Consumed with the need to speak my piece, I rushed through the halls of the academy with a singular focus everyone stepped out of the way for. Upon reaching Zane's classroom, I crossed my arms and adopted an air refuting socialising, sending his classmates scurrying away from me without a second glance.
Mrs Zimmerman was the last person to leave, clutching a bag of Skittles in her hand and a triumphant grin on her face. She ignored my presence and waddled down the corridor, the mass of lingering students parting of her girth.
Breathing in deeply and squashing the nerves dampening my palms, I stepped into his Maths classroom and closed the door behind me.
Zane loomed over his desk, stuffing his textbook and pad into the blue satchel with a ferocity foreshadowing our coming conversation. He didn't notice my presence until he had turned around, nearly falling over his shoes in surprise.
"We need to talk." Words I never expected to say in his presence and they felt heavy on my tongue.
He nodded and clenched his hands around the strap of his bag. Clearly he wasn't going to speak first.
Breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, I clasped my hands in front of me and just blurted out the question burning through my thoughts. "Why are you being such a prat to me?"
He flinched and hunched his shoulders, officially on lockdown. "I'm not being a prat," he muttered, "I just haven't had the time to hang out."
"Because you've been busy with The Faed?" I retorted, tired of beating around the bush every time I spoke with someone. Rubbing my right wrist, I heaved a sigh and added: "Look, I didn't know about it any sooner than you, okay?"
"Right." Zane rolled his eyes with a mocking laugh. "So that's why you've been so chummy with the enemy." He stepped forward and let his satchel drop to the floor. "Kyde, right? Tell me, is he your new bestie now you've gone to the dark side
My nails dug into the spaces between my knuckles, the joints creaking. "I never took you to be weak willed."
"And I never took you to be a liar. But here we are."
"I'm not a liar, Zane," I sighed, slumping back against the classroom door.
He paced between the empty tables, tapping each one he passed. "Not telling your best-friend about the The Faed, isn't lying?" He stopped and stared at me, brow pinched, betrayed. "You know I've dreamt of these things, Ali! Ever since we were kids!"
"Don't you think I know that?" I thumped my head back against the door and released the handle, pressing the heels of my palms against my eyes. "I didn't ask for any of this, Zane."
"So you don't deny lying?"
"I don't deny knowing about it now," I sighed, drawing myself tight and unrelenting in the face of his accusations. "If you asked me about it during the summer, instead of ignoring my existence in favour of some grass-skirt wearing girls, then you'd know I'm just as new to this as you."
"Are you?" He raked his hands through his hair. "Because from what I'm seeing, which is a lot more than you think, you're acting like all this shit isn't new to you."
Frustration shot its scorching fingers through my chest and stomach, setting alight to every muscle and inch of skin. Already knowing I was red in the face and trembling, I met his accusing glare head on and spoke in a cold undertone: "You think this is easy for me? Realising another world is out there? A world I am a part of by birth right, finding out my own mother withheld it from me, does that sound like something I have been privy to for a while now?"
"You aren't the only one going through a load of shit, Alice," he sneered, showing once more how malicious he could be. "Everything isn't always about you."
The pacing, the defensive and borderline malicious behaviour; I'd never seen Zane so... "You're afraid…" Of course there were times when he flew off the handle, his dad's plan to sign his shipping company over to Zane when he turned twenty-five and when he flunked his Geography SAT.
No, something else is happening.
"You're a selfish, childish, boy, Zane Anderson. How dare you say I've been lying to you! Who has been sneaking around with Dietrich and Everlynn? Who has been rude and judgemental without listening to the other side of the story?" My breath hitched and hot tears swarmed my vision. "Who has abandoned their best-friend when they were needed?"
Zane struggled for the words to say. His hands rose and flexed helplessly, stricken and at a loss of what to do. He was the emotional one out of the pair of us; to see the tables turned upon him left us both wanting, of what I didn't know.
Wiping the tears from my cheeks, I drew in a ragged breath and listened to the rampant pace of my heart. "Admittedly I intended to tell you of this sooner," I murmured, "as soon as I realised my life is entangled in The Faed more so than even I first believed, but you weren't here. Were you?"
He flinched and ducked his head, a splash of red across his cheeks.
"Why do you hate me so much?" I repeated, quieter this time. "When did you stop caring about me?"
For a second Zane's mask twisted and I saw the old boy I knew. "I can't stop the whispers, Alice," he whimpered, "I've tried so hard, but when the sun's down and I'm home. It-"
"The Faedling." A rush of sympathy drove through my chest and fresh tears pricked my eyes. "He's been speaking to you? Oh god, that isn't, that shouldn't…"
He shook his head and stepped back, jaw clenching. "I don't want pity from you," he snapped, "I just want…I just want-"
"Here." I ripped Papa's book from my bag and shoved it at him. "This'll help. It might not seem much, tales and unrealistic rubbish, but this will help."
He didn't take it at first, features twisting and scrunching, warring between relief and jealousy. Finally, after several pensive seconds, his hands wrapped around the book pressed against his chest and he settled on an impassive countenance. "This doesn't change anything. You're still…"
"Your best-friend under all this bad blood between Dietrich and The Faed," I finished for him, a of the weight lifted from my shoulders. Smiling genuinely, albeit small, I stepped back and grasped the doorknob, knowing the conversation was at an end.
Zane sighed and for a moment something shifted within him. He stood taller, broader and adopted a determined air. "Watch out for yourself, Ali," he murmured, gripping the book tightly. "I don't know what you're getting into, but that Faedling? He isn't a friend."
Instead of forcing the first sight of the real boy out of sight, I simply shrugged and left the room.
Admittedly, it could have gone better, less like a shouting match and more like two friends. He was still a royal prat, avoiding instead of confronting me and having the gall to act as if I was the only one to blame. We hadn't had such a large bust-up since the second year of our friendship; we were both at fault at the time, harmless pranks gone wrong which had landed us in my mother's office and his parents' called. We hadn't spoken to each other for an entire week, during which Naomi and Joel had played mediators; needless to say we made up with a fair quantity of Skittles and white chocolate and raspberry muffins for myself.
Nobody bothered me on the bus ride home (not wanting to test Kyde's patience) and allowed me the time to gather my scattered composure. Relationships were hard to maintain, balanced on a certain level of trust and selflessness; when one's childhood was tainted with a fine layer of betrayal like dust, trust had become a commodity I didn't give out willingly and harboured many moments of selfishness. How could I expect someone to stay when life very well could take them away at a moment's notice?
Realising I had reached my porch steps without conscious thought of exiting the bus, I looked up and met Kyde's concerned gaze. "Hello," I sighed, too tired for even a smile. Cresting the steps, I took my place on the porch swing and he propped up on the porch railing.
"School go well?" He inquired awkwardly. He fiddled with his fingers, plucking at the hem of his button-up shirt.
Tucking my legs beneath me, I smoothed my skirt across my thighs. The crispness of October tickled my skin, reminding me yet again of the inevitable countdown and my physical difference to all those I know.
"School was…school." I pinched the bridge of my nose, as a headache reared its ugly head. "Did you know my best-friend, Zane Anderson, can see The Faed now?" I peered at him from beneath my brows, inspecting every miniscule movement he made; there were few.
"Oh?" His eyebrow rose in challenge, aware as much as I of what I was implying. "I haven't heard of an Anderson Faedling. Would it appease you if I did?"
"Would you be able to stop him from harassing Zane?"
He pursed his lips, as if my remark stung him. "No. Princess, what is happening with the boy is not uncommon," he admitted, "some do awaken early if outside forces are present. There is little I can do."
"So you can't even speak with his Faedling? Just to have him wait a few weeks longer?" I pressed, irked by his unhelpful attitude. If I had Kyde's influence in The Faed, then I wouldn't hesitate to help my friends, no matter the cost.
He combed a hand through his hair and turned around, looking out over Hale estate. "It isn't my place to interfere, Alice, you have to understand this," he said, "what is happening isn't uncommon and nor is it frowned upon in our culture. It is just as natural as a man loving a man and a woman loving a woman, there are no choices about it."
Glaring at his back, I ignored Shae's coos and attempts at calming our tempers. Her silhouette fingertips danced through my hair and across my cheeks, cool and soft like a child's skin. "But there is always a choice! You're just being too stubborn to help him."
Kyde responded in kind, ridicule thick in his voice. "And you are being a spoilt child. You have a choice, unlike some of the humans in this world. But you loiter on the line and refuse to pick one or the other. Imagine if you were in Zane's position, would you wish for a mild reprieve before the onslaught returns? Or a permanent solution?"
His words pierced clean through my clouded thoughts and to the heart of logic. He was right, however much I hated to admit it. Zane would get comfortable and relax if this mental onslaught was to recede and when it would return. He won't have a chance.
Cupping my pounding forehead, I closed my eyes at the helpless tears. "He's struggling, Kyde," I whispered, "so much. And I can't do anything. All I have done is give him Papa's book and even-"
"What!" Kyde whirled in a flurry of ivory and shadows, looming over me, seeming impossibly tall in his outrage. "You gave a boy the book? Are you stupid?"
I slid my legs off of the porch swing, Shae flowing into the space between us. "He needs all the help he can get," I murmured, pushing against the brunt of his horror. "I can't let him go through this without something."
Kyde raised his hands, as if to strike, face twisted in consternation. "Foolish!" He threw his arms into the air and backed away to the other end of the porch. "Do you know what will happen if your Faedslayers got their grubby hands on it?"
"They won't," I promised, even though I was not entirely confident. They were the rocks Zane had needed throughout this ordeal; I couldn't expected him to withhold the book, only to hope Everlynn wouldn't use it to harm myself or Kyde.
He vibrated, torn between lunging at me or at the Strausse residence. Shae whimpered at his feet and wrapped herself around him, engulfing his lean frame until only his face was visible.
"He won't show them," I reiterated, putting all the conviction I could muster into my voice.
"He better not." Breathing in deeply, he sunk into Shae's embrace, allowing her to take away his ire.
Feeling like a voyeur, I turned aside and stared at Everlynn's window. The lights were off, most likely out on another training exercise and the curtains drawn. Recalling her last run in with The Faed, concern reared its warm head and filled me once more with the wish to talk with her. She knew more than I, had lived with this knowledge. And yet I hesitated.
Headlights pierced the gloom, as Mama's BMW swung into our drive. The lights gave Shae a purplish-grey tint, as she slunk back from Kyde and resumed her childlike figure.
Mama juggled a briefcase and books in her arms, as she hurried toward the porch. Her eyes danced between Kyde and I, lips pursing and brow furrowed in concern. "Everything alright, Alice?" She inquired, hovering on the top step.
Kyde bowed his head with a reserved smile. "Of course," he replied, "I was simply reassuring Alice that our training will begin within a week's time."
"Really, now?" Mama eyed me, hearing the lie keener than I ever could and searched for the truth in me.
"Yes." I nodded rapidly, hoping I was just as convincing. Mothers and their superpowers.
She fished out her keys and sidled up to the door. "Well then, come on in." Her invitation didn't include Kyde. "Best get out of the cold and help me with dinner."
Rising with the stiffness of cold joints, I scooped up my bag and turned to Kyde. "I'll see you soon?" His disappearances were giving me a complex.
He bowed with a mocking salute. "Of course, love." Then glancing at Mama, he added: "Goodnight ladies."
Mama didn't wait for Shae to completely consume him, before ushering me into the warmer depths of our home. Locks turning and chains sliding across the door were becoming a common occurrence as of late; particularly when Kyde was around.
Slipping off her jacket and scarf, she hung them on the coat-stand and flipped the hallway light switch, walking into the cavern of a kitchen. "Now how does chicken curry sound?" She called over her shoulder.
Dumping my shoes and bag beside her briefcase and heels, I followed her. "If you let me do all the cooking, then it sounds great."
A/N: sorry for the delay, the conversations/arguments between Alice & Everlynn/Zane/Kyde just didn't seem to flow properly every time I attempted to write it. Unfortunately there's no action, but stuff like this has to happen in order to further the plot & tie a few loose ends. But don't worry, Kyde's going to get around to training Alice in a most...unorthodox manner.