The day passed without comment. The chocolate was handed out, but everyone seemed quieter. Even Chelsea Daire avoided saying anything to Vanessa.

"So what happens exactly during Vanessa's birthday celebration?" Toby asked Faith. Vanessa seemed too high strung to ask.

She hummed. "Are we getting on a first name basis Toby?"

"Lancer."

The Sioux held her hands up. "Well, Vanessa shows up in a new outfit and hands out chocolates. We all put our presents in her locker if we haven't given them on her actual birthday." Toby nodded, making a mental note. "Then, what I heard happens is her family goes to pray at the local Hindu temple and make offerings to some goddess Vanessa is dedicated to. Then they have dinner."

"Why is she stressed?"

Faith looked uncomfortable. "Her family's pretty casual, but her grandfather's..." She made the sign for crazy. "Vanessa never told me what caste the Mishra family's in. He makes a big deal about the family reputation, so it's probably pretty high. So they get all formal when he's around."

Toby sighed, glancing at his friend. Vanessa was gripping her pencil, reminding him of the blood on her shirt.

He frowned and returned his attention to the lesson.


Clip City's Hindu temple was pretty big.

Mishra led the way, followed by Vanessa and her parents. They stopped before the statue of Brahma. They knelt as he began to pray in Hindu. Finally, they reached the goddess - and Vanessa took over prayers. Once she was done, she lit the candles and incense. She pulled out her sacrifice- a single small painting of the goddess.

Prayers finished, the family headed back to where they were staying. Pajaa and Leena helped Vanessa into her dress. The girl glanced at her phone as they worked, wanting to call Toby.

To call anybody.

Too soon they finished. Vanessa walked down the stairs, feeling like a corpse prepared for a funeral. Once again, Mishra was waiting downstairs. He tied a corsage on her wrist. "A lovely fifteen year old." He said.

The family entered the limo. Not even her younger cousin's comments could read Vanessa's gaze from straight ahead. Too soon, the limo stopped in front of the restaurant. She turned her gaze to see that they were the first ones there.

"Reservation for Mishra."

Her grandfather had reserved the entire restaurant.

The rest of the family entered, choosing seats. Vanessa stared at the door, a bad feeling crawling through her system.

Finally, a trio entered. A older girl and two people Vanessa assumed were her parents headed up. Mishra greeted them, leading the girl to his granddaughter. "Vanessa Bell, meet Tanvi Darij."

They shook hands.

"Nice to meet you?" Vanessa tried.

"She's your bride to be."