I yanked my bike around, bringing it to a stop directly in front of Harry. He leaned against the nearest wall, an easy, lazy smile on his face as I took off my helmet and locked my gaze on him.
"Everything all right?" I asked, running a hand through my hair. He shrugged, turned and walked back into the large warehouse. Climbing off my bike, I wheeled it in behind him, stopping only when Lyle called me over to the glass. I dropped my back and scampered over to him, as Harry continued down towards the lockers. Lyle was glancing over a sheet of paper. He put a tick beside my name and glanced upwards, an eyebrow raised.
"Fancy earning some extra pay?"
Lyle wasn't too bad. Human, scrawny, with mousey brown hair turning prematurely grey. He was Kate's uncle, and I could see where she got her kindness from. Lyle was easy going with all of us, and the worst aspects of him came out mainly when he was stressed. Being the day shift boss, that was quite a lot of the time. Still, he wasn't too bad to work for, and he treated me and Rack decently.
We got paid for every round of packages we delivered; five packages each round, grouped by location. And if you finished before your shift was over, you either went home early or managed to earn some extra cash. Of course, if you didn't finish a certain amount before the shift was done, you'd have to work overtime or get your pay docked.
Luckily, neither me nor Rack had that problem. We'd endeared ourselves to a couple of our co-workers by helping them out, too.
Lyle looked gratefully at me, as Harry appeared from the lockers and headed towards us. He stopped in front of Lyle and glanced at the rota hanging up.
"Shit, man, you got Fast in?"
Lyle rolled his eyes. "Why do you think I've got so many extra packages?" He gestured to the pile behind him. "Mel keeps arranging it so you or your sister are on the same shift as him."
Fast was the slowest guy in the place. Not that he was lazy, he tried really, really hard, but he had a tendency to get lost and couldn't bike as well as the others.
"Makes sense," I said, glancing at the rest of the rota. Kate and Rack were both on tonight, and we all had the day off tomorrow before the three of us did a night shift together.
The day jobs were mainly offices, students and the unemployed. Usually the same sort of places. The night shifts were different; evenings were people home from work, more often than not. The rest of the night was taken up delivering to bars, clubs, more students and some other places that were on the more seedy side.
After a few too many instances, the bosses had decided it was best during the nights to send each human paired with a Gate. It gave the humans a sense of security, and helped us more than we could have imagined. I – and Rack, for that matter – learnt something new about their culture every night.
Whether it was a bit of history, or tips on styles and music, films that had stood out over the years…
"We got the same night shift again," Harry commented, grinning at me. "Partner?"
I shrugged. "Sure." He, along with Kate, had been a huge help. I knew why he was doing it. It was the same reason Lyle sometimes winced when I came in, why he sometimes turned his gaze sharply away. He was already too deeply in love to be affected by the full extent of my powers, but he got smatterings of them now and then.
Harry, on the other hand, was young, free and single, and all too open to what I could do, even when I wasn't trying. And, here, I didn't try. I didn't want to stand out more than I already did.
Rack would be happy, at least. Her power had always been stronger than mine, and she was weary of being around Harry on her own.
"See you later," I said, as Lyle handed over the packages and I climbed back onto my bike, putting what I could in the satchel bag slung over my shoulder, strapping the rest into the basket on the back of the bike. I figured I could get another round in, after this, before my shift was over.
As I pedalled out of the warehouse, I could feel Harry's eyes on me.
X X X
There was a strange thrill in weaving in and out of the traffic. I had earphones jammed into my ears, plugged into a music player, donated by Harry and filled with music he'd put on there with a little help from Kate. They called it my introduction to music; hits from the seventies and eighties.
"Rock," Harry had told me, his eyes wide and excited. I'd noticed it with all of them – they were so damn happy to introduce me and Rack to the things they loved. We were still a novelty to them, blank slates they could test their tastes on. And we were enjoying it, too. Rack was discovering new TV shows and films every day, and whenever I came home for a shift she wasn't on, she was either in stitches or balling her eyes out.
"These are supposed to be kid's films!" she'd cried once, gesturing to the screen where a small lion cub crouched over a larger lion. "How can they let their children watch this?"
And this came from a girl who had been told at the tender age of twenty-four to kill a family of werewolves, because they had been out of line.
She hadn't flinched once, or shed a tear.
But show her some silent love story in animated 3D at the start of the film, and she couldn't hold back the waterworks.
As I was discovering music, she was learning Film 101.
So far, so good. Almost every time I went out on a round I had a few near-misses, which usually left me laughing. Now, I was singing loudly along to 'Carry On My Wayward Son', by Kansas. A particular favourite of Harry's, a song Kate admitted she only knew because of a TV show about demon hunters.
I'd kind of stared at her when she mentioned that, feeling shock rolling around in me as I realised she liked the show. "But the demons are evil!" she had told me. "Not like, well, you and Rack! Nothing like you!"
Still, it was a good song, and I was getting a fair few stares from people on the pavement as I whizzed past. Glares from girls out for walks with their boyfriends, as said males stared at me with open lust. He don't love you, baby, I wanted to yell, but resisted.
They'd learn sooner or later.
Kids tended to laugh, mothers stared at me like I was crazy, and one guy actually put his fist in the air, a grin on his face as he did what Harry told me was the rock hand. No matter how fast I was going, I could still notice it all.
Ah, the perks of being a demon.
It wasn't until I saw the rock hand guy's grin fade suddenly that I realised something bad was about to happen. I whipped my neck around, felt something click and pain filled my neck, a split second before the car filled my vision and hit me head on.
My bike was totalled. I could see that easily as I hit the windscreen, bounced off the roof and landed on the floor with a smack. The car skidded to a stop, and traffic seemed to suddenly halt everywhere. Blinding pain filled every inch of me, as I heard heavy footsteps. Rock guy dropped to his knees beside me.
"You hit her!" a woman screeched. "Oh my God, is she dead?"
"She came out of nowhere!"
I turned my head to see the driver now standing by the open door of his car, hands on his head and eyes wide as he panted heavily.
"Shit," rock guy said, slowly.
"Tell him to calm down," I groaned, closing my eyes for a second. "He's going to hyperventilate."
"Call an ambulance!" the woman yelled.
Bloody Jesus Christ in hell, (something Kate liked to say, and it did have a certain ring to it) did humans have to get so worked up over everything?
The guy was staring at me with wide. He reached out slowly, like he was scared that if he touched me, I'd just break into a million pieces. Finally, his hand fell on my shoulder.
"She's okay," he whispered, as the woman screamed at the man and the man, who looked on the verge of tears, just stood there taking it. "Hey!" the rock guy yelled, silencing them both. "Hey, look, she's okay!" I smiled as best I could. The pain was still there, but it was receding slowly. Where I had cuts, I could feel the skin healing over, itching like hell. After a few seconds, as the man and woman crept forward, I sat up.
A traffic jam was building up, and from further away, I could hear the horns blaring.
"Holy shit," the driver muttered, before realisation dawned on his face. Car doors slammed around us as people got out to see what was going on. "Holy shit! You're one of them! She's one of them!" he screamed, pointing an accusing finger at me.
The woman rounded on me, eyes wide and full of raw, pure anger, like I had tricked her. Only the rock guy didn't look scared, just relieved. After glancing quickly around, I got to my feet.
The message they were sending me – those people who were climbing out of their cars included – was clear enough. I stepped around to the other side of the car.
"Should have hit you harder," the man spat, as I scrambled forward and picked up the ruined bike. Scattered around it were the packages, and I gathered them up. The rock guy joined me, holding the ones I couldn't carry.
"We don't want you here!" the woman screeched, and others picked up the cry.
Go home! Go home! Go home!
The tears pricked my eyes, but I refused to let them fall.
Without saying a word, the guy followed me as I carted my bike to the side of the road. They weren't even bothering to get in their cars, now the thing was over. Instead, they were yelling things that were making some passing parents flinch. A few of the people glanced nervously at me, others had nothing but pity in their eyes.
I didn't want any of that.
I dropped the bike by a nearby bin, and clutched the packages to my chest, bowing my head as I walked as quick as I could away from the sounds.
Go home! Go home! Go home!
Part of me really wanted to scream at them, to tell them I'd be home if I could get there. But I kept my mouth shut.
Soon I was around the corner and away from them, and I let out a deep breath. The guy was still beside me, silent as we walked.
We were halfway back to the warehouse when I felt the tears force themselves out and tumble down my face. The guy stepped closer to me as I tried to control my shaking shoulders.
"They're not worth it," he muttered. "Really. They're just idiots. They don't understand anything."
"And you do?"
He shrugged. "When I was a kid, I was…skinny, pale. I dyed my hair soon as I could, wore, well, this." He gestured to his clothes. "And put up with the names, the comments, people telling me I should just go slit my wrists."
He talked about it so casually, like it was normal.
Wait, was it?
Was that really how they treated each other?
"You've just got to find the right people," he continued. "They're out there."
I nodded. "I think I've found them."
We walked the rest of the way in silence, and he carried the packages into the warehouse beside me. Lyle glanced up, frowning as I stepped inside. The guy gave me another rock hand and a grin, and left.
"What happened?" Lyle asked, as I carried dropped the packages in their designated place beside the glass windowed office.
"Hit by a car," I muttered. "Sorry. I couldn't carry them all without the bike."
His eyes widened. "What happened to the bike? Are you okay? There's not a scratch on you…"
"The bike got totalled," I explained, glancing around the rest of the place. "I'm sorry, Lyle. I'll be more careful, I promise. And I'll pay off the bike from my wages."
He sighed. "Don't worry about it. As long as you're okay. We don't have any more bikes, not for today, but you probably shouldn't be working anyway after…"
"Stop panicking." I smiled at him. "Seriously, Lyle, I'm fine. Not a scratch on me, see." I held out my arms and twirled in front of him, glad when he looked more relaxed. "I healed. It's part of what I can do, okay? So I'm going to head home, have a nice, hot relaxing bath, and see you on my next day shift."
He nodded. "Yeah. Sounds good. Take care of yourself."
Once he had finished freaking out, I left, glad to see my music player was still working. I didn't live too far from the warehouse, and was soon climbing the stairs to the flat I shared with my sister.
To my surprise, she wasn't watching the latest film Kate had let her borrow – something about an insane amount of Dalmatians – but was instead watching the news. She sat on the sofa with her arms wrapped around her knees, chin resting on the top and eyes wide. Rack didn't even look my way when I came in.
"Rack? What's going on?"
She didn't say anything, and I moved to stand behind the sofa, dragging my gaze to the television.
My chest grew tight as my hands fell on the back of the sofa, using it to hold me up. Because the news cameras were lingering on the site where I'd been hit, just over an hour ago. To my surprise, few of the people who had been there had left, including the driver, who the journalist was currently interviewing.
"How are we supposed to know who's human and who's not?" he spat. "Your next door neighbours could be one of them and you'd never even know! She looked like a girl! Just a normal girl, but what she did was terrifying…" He shuddered, as if it was beyond thinking about. The screeching woman stepped forward.
"She made him crash his car," she said, slowly, putting her hand on the man's shoulder as he dipped his head and covered his face. His shoulders shook. "She was screaming in a strange, horrible language and…and I saw it. She just sat in the middle of the road on that bike and stared right at him, and he hit her! He was terrified!"
Some of the people in the background had looks of disbelief on their faces, of fear. There were a couple – those that I knew had seen it, too – who just looked at the woman like she was crazy. But they wouldn't say anything, and I doubted anyone else would notice them.
"They need to do something!" the man said, lifting his head and taking his hands away from his face. I didn't think anyone would notice how completely dry his eyes were, either. "The people who are supposed to protect us! The politicians! The police! They need to do something!"
The woman nodded, and the camera panned out to show the journalist, looking almost perplexed as she smiled down the lens.
"Well, strong words there…"
I grabbed the remote and flicked the TV off. Rack turned her head towards me as I climbed onto the sofa and wrapped my arms around her. She hugged me back.
"Why do they hate us so much?" she whispered.
I wished I had an answer for her.
A/N: Thoughts? Feedback? Like it, love it, hate it? Favourite characters? As always, eagerly waiting to hear your thoughts. And the poll on my profile page is aimed at helping me decide what to write next, so please check it out. Thanks.