Phoebe attended college and worked part time without her father knowing. It intrigued me that she could hide such things from him when he was clearly a nosy beast but I assumed the alcohol helped keep him unawares. I'd yet to see any other facets of her life and with my severance from Atticus and Sebastien I was finally able to do as I pleased and follow her.
At nine in the morning her alarm blared and I watched from the rocking chair as my human sat up in bed, her blonde hair an incomprehensible tangle. She yawned and stretched, blindly feeling for her glasses on her nightstand, and slipped out of bed to go to the bathroom. I shifted in my chair and eyed her long legs before she vanished from the bedroom. Pale and pliant and full of blood.
She returned half an hour later fully dressed in khaki pants and an unsightly red polo. I frowned, mildly disappointed she put on her clothes in the bathroom rather than in front of me. She bustled about, organizing and making her bed, and paused when her eyes fell upon the torn copy of Purgatory.
Hesitant, she reached out to pick it up and ran her long pink fingernails across it. Her heart pattered a bit quicker as she examined it and I glanced at my hands hidden in my pockets. My talons were like knives.
"Weird," she muttered. "I'll have to get a new copy."
On the way through the first floor I could feel her mother's fragile pulse from the dark living room and I paused to look inside. She was bundled in blankets but partially exposed, shivering despite the warm weather. I glanced back to Phoebe, who was in the kitchen hunting for food. She hadn't noticed her mother was uncomfortable. Perhaps she didn't care.
I stepped over discarded beer bottles and past the television to where the small and scrawny human lay covered in blankets. Her hair was the same color as my Phoebe's but her blue eyes were cloudy and distant. She gazed dispassionately into the distance. I could sense sickness in her flesh—one that was physical and another that ran far deeper. Regardless, her faith was strong.
After a quick glance over my shoulder to ensure I was alone, I waved a hand to draw the blankets over the woman and tuck her into them. Her position was shifted as well and she took a deep breath.
"Thank you," she whispered, drifting off to sleep.
I rolled my eyes and followed after Phoebe when I heard the front door shut.
The world was bathed in bright sunlight. I scowled while I walked along beside my human, who was enjoying the heat and radiance far more than I. We followed a dusty dirt road for two miles under the unbearable sun until we arrived outside a small diner quite in the middle of nowhere. It was run down and unpleasant-looking and I wasn't entirely sure I wanted Phoebe inside it.
It was dreary and cramped as I had feared. There were five other humans, three in the back cooking and two out front serving. I took a seat in a far corner to wait for Phoebe's day to be over.
She was polite to the other humans, not out of necessity to keep her job but because she seemed to genuinely enjoy their presence. The diner filled up quickly and she would get distracted chatting with a group before moving on to the next. I could feel all of their pulses, some slower and weaker than others, but hers was the only one I took any interest in.
Around one in the afternoon Phoebe went outside to take a break and I ghosted along after her. I eyed several humans shoveling food in their mouths with thinly veiled disgust. Digestion… ugh.
Mercifully, she stood in the shade. The heat was waning but still unbearable. She tightened her ponytail, running her fingers along her blonde scalp, and sank down to sit on the ground with her arms on her knees. I stood over her watching each movement rapturously. Mortals had slow, deliberate locomotion.
The door opened and another human emerged—one of the males who cooked the food. He was stocky and had a foul presence about him, particularly because I could feel his pulse quicken at the sight of Phoebe. I curled my lip in a snarl and scowled, poised to rip his throat out. A cigarette hung from his lips and he idly approached my human to stand on her other side.
"What's up, Feebs?" he drawled.
She blinked and glanced up. The interruption annoyed her. "Er… nothing. Just taking a quick break. What's up with you, Devon?"
"Nada." He lit the cigarette and rolled his eyes. "Jamie's being a pain in the ass."
They talked for fifteen minutes. Phoebe mostly nodded her head and ignored him while he chattered on and I resisted the urge to snap his neck. Of course none of them were blind to how beautiful she was. I imagined most men she met had the same reaction of myself, Tom, or Devon.
At three o'clock her day was over at the diner. I was glad to be free from the noxious smells and outside walking along the dirt road again. The cicadas were singing and a slight breeze ruffled Phoebe's clothes, carrying the scent of pollen and mowed grass. We were walking in the opposite direction of her home and cut through the woods to emerge on a sparsely populated college campus.
It was a pitiful, small school. She made her way to her classes, of which there were three, all involving computers and coding. I sat beside her in the last class and spun in my chair, bored beyond comprehension. The machines humans made didn't interest me but Phoebe was clinging to every word her professor spouted off. She scribbled her notes and clicked around on the monitor.
Night had fallen when we emerged from the last class. Phoebe hadn't eaten from what I could recall and I frowned at her as we made our way through the forest again. She had to be hungry. And why was she risking walking through the dark woods on her own?
Leaves and twigs crunched under her feet. She was completely unaware of my presence and carried on silently through the cold night toward the dirt road. I kept my hands in my pockets and kept pace. Her life was uninteresting and decidedly human, full of forced interactions and glib smiles and general mediocrity. I wouldn't subject her to it any longer. Soon the time would come to take her away.
A fast pulse joined Phoebe's and I stopped in my tracks. My human carried on for several steps but the approaching danger growled softly and she too paused to listen. I lengthened my ears to hear the proximity of the creature and realized it was much too close to do damage control out of sight.
In a flash of fangs and starvation-fueled desperation, a coyote erupted from the brush. Phoebe screamed and recoiled in terror, covering her head with her hands and falling to the ground as I lifted a hand to catch the animal in mid-jump. It snapped its jaws inches from her head and writhed for several seconds before whimpering in fear. I flicked my wrist to send it flying into the bushes.
Unlike humans, animals learned their lesson quite quickly. It scampered off in the other direction to search for food. Hunger was a strong motivator for violence—I could empathize with it in that regard.
Phoebe remained trembling on the ground for several minutes before risking a peek. I watched with amusement as she staggered to her feet and looked around wildly for the coyote. She swallowed hard, heart racing, and ran the rest of the way through the woods. It wasn't good to intervene, but if she had her throat ripped out things would become much more complicated.
Tom was waiting outside in his truck when we arrived. He hopped out when he saw Phoebe coming down the dark road and she dragged him by the collar through her front gate and inside her home. Ruffled, I followed after them and felt about for the patriarch's presence. He would die soon. His meddling would make it difficult to have any sort of progression with my human.
The three young females were shrieking and running through the house with the shaggy yellow dog. They chirped 'hellos' to Tom and Phoebe and she swept upstairs, ignoring her invalid mother. The father wasn't around—I suspected he was at work.
However, Phoebe's mother was sitting up with a blanket around her bony shoulders. She was eating soup and staring glumly at the television with several empty cans of beer around her. I glanced at once resting beside her bowl of soup and scowled. That was the sickness I felt: alcoholism. Her liver was on the verge of collapse and quite ready to call it quits. Mortals and their addictions…
Upstairs, things were quite different.
Phoebe sat on her bed, looking around. "Tom, I think… I think something's following me."
He laughed and sat in the rocking chair—my rocking chair—and I was tempted to hurl him from it. I stood glumly in a corner, stewing bitterly. Oh well. It was better than him trying to touch her.
"Feel a cold breeze?" her friend teased.
"A coyote attacked me in the woods. It should've killed me but it ran off into the bushes. You know how they are when they're hungry. It looked like it got thrown away from me."
"You're welcome," I murmured, smiling.
"Just be happy it didn't bite you," Tom said. "Rabies shots are expensive. Besides, I told you I can bring you home from school at night so you don't have to take the risk of walking."
It was hardly necessary. I would protect Phoebe from then on.
She scowled. "Fine, think whatever you want, but I know what happened." Her anger dissipated and she appeared more demure; afraid, even. "I can feel something hanging around me… Watching."
Tom sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Y'know what? Fine. I'll put this bullshit to rest. My friend Grace is going to become a nun: her dad is a pastor and she knows a lot about ghosts and demons and that kind of crap. If you want I can ask her to come here and check the place out."
Hm… That could prove to be an obstacle. If this Grace was as accomplished as Tom made her out to be, she could pose a threat and expose me to Phoebe before the time was right. She was probably a hack who wouldn't be able to detect my presence. Regardless, I would suppress my demonic energy when the human visited the home to sniff me out.
This seemed to put Phoebe's fears to rest. She showed Tom some of her computer homework and they chatted for a while before he finally left. I took my place in the rocking chair and waited patiently while Phoebe picked through her armoire for pajamas. Mortals were not entirely ignorant to a demon's presence. They could feel us, whether they wanted to admit it or not.
My human took out a pair of shorts and a camisole and placed them on her bed. She fingered the edges and cast a suspicious look about her bedroom. I waited patiently.
"I know you're there," she said.
I smiled, baring my fangs. Soon she would be much more aware of my existence.
But her intuition once again deprived me of the opportunity to see her nude. I watched hungrily as she left the room and clicked my talons together. The father and brother were both absent from the home that evening. One more misstep by either of them would spell their untimely demise.