I took a few steps back to try and give her space. She rubbed her neck, feeling the pain was all gone, and crossed the small room to inspect it in a vanity mirror. “Did you do that?” she asked calmly.
“Yes,” I said quietly, bracing myself.
“It’s part of my… thing.” I watched her cautiously as she ran her fingers over the now perfect and unharmed space on her throat.
“What thing?” She turned, no trace of fear, just a curiosity in her large eyes.
“I…take…people’s energy,” I winced, then corrected myself, “Their souls.” Not intentionally, usually, but I might as well be honest about it up front. I don’t know if I believe in souls in the traditional sense. But I did know what happens when the energy that typically animates people is gone. Calling it a soul was as good as anything.
“How?” she asked.
“I don’t know, exactly.”
“What do you mean you ‘don’t know’?” she raised an eyebrow at me.
“If someone asked how you eat an apple, can you explain the exact biological stages?” I remarked.
“No. Probably not very accurately, anyway.” She eyed me, contemplating the comparison. “I see your point. So, what, you just go around taking souls from people to heal random injuries?”
I let out a nervous laugh. “No. Not typically. Normally, I avoid people, as much as possible”
“Why?” She sat on her bed and pulled a knee to her chin, watching me intently.
“People generally need a soul to live. Stealing it from them tends to have adverse effects,” I said quietly.
“You can’t control it?”
I shrugged. “Sure. It’s harder in groups or around highly emotional individuals, though. Certain emotions are harder than others to avoid too.”
“Is that why you’re so strange around everyone at the coffee shop?” She lit up with realization.
I nodded. “It’s harder around that many people and it’s even worse if there are strong emotions involved. Teenagers are especially problematic. You’re all so moody and hormonal,” I said, waving my hand.
Katie laughed, “I can see how Jessie could make life hard on you then.”
I wrinkled my nose. “You have no idea. Actually, that whole ordeal earlier was very uncomfortable.”
“You mean with Hunter?”
“Especially with Hunter,” I scowled.
“I think he likes you,” she said in a playful voice, giving me an impish smile.
I made a snorting sound. “I think he likes himself enough for both of us.”
Grinning at my response, she blessedly changed the topic, “Who knows this about you?”
“No one. Not since my grandfather died.”
She paused, watching me. “Why would you share it with me?” Then gushed with her hands up, “Not that I’m not thankful!” she assured.
It was my turn to stare. Should I tell her the rest or was this one of those “quit while you’re ahead” moments?
“What?” she asked, shifting under my scrutiny.
I paused and ran my hands down the front of my legs, trying to wipe the sweat from my palms. Then, let out a long breath. “When you came to my house. You reacted to me; you felt the energy pass between us when our skin touched.” And Benny, but I left that part out since she was handling the conversation so well. No need to press my luck. “You also seem to have an over-abundance of energy. Which, you spill. All over the place.”
“Really? Is that weird?”
I nodded. “Whatever you are, it’s similar to me.”
“I’m like you?” she squeaked out the question.
“Not exactly. But you’re… something. I wouldn’t use the word weird, but definitely not normal.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes. My pulse racing, waiting for her to come to her senses and run out of the room. Though, maybe the fact her stepdad was on the other side of the door was working in my favor. I may have been the lesser evil in her mind tonight. Finally, she said, “Cool.”
“That’s it? Cool?” I asked, my mouth open.
“Yeah. This is all pretty cool,” she shrugged.
Well, okay then. I didn’t really know what to say to that. I’d wanted a favorable reaction, so it seemed a little hypocritical to judge her level of desensitization at this point. When she didn’t have any more questions, I stood up. “So, are we going to this party or what?” I asked. If she was willing to tolerate my existence with this information, the least I could do was accompany her to a social event.
She bounced to her feet, grinning. Then her face fell in disappointment. “I don’t know where it is.”
“Can you text Jessie? Wasn’t she supposed to get the invite?” I asked. Why hadn’t Hunter just told them where it was? This all seemed unnecessarily convoluted if you wanted people to show up.
“Let me try.” She went to the dresser to grab her phone, adeptly clicking away at the screen. I inspected the sketches on the wall as she tracked Jessie down. Katie was a very talented artist. I wondered who had posed for most of the pictures. A moment later she held her screen up to me. “She got the invite but doesn’t know where it is.”
I looked at the image. Most of the screen was gray, with a grainy texture, but there was a swoop of green down the center. “I know where it is,” I said.
Katie squealed. “Really?”
“Yes. But if I tell you, do we have to tell Jessie?” I asked, half-joking.
Katie laughed. “She did send it to us.”
I made an exaggerated sigh. “Fine. But let’s hurry. If we’re lucky, she’ll spend so much time doing her hair we’ll be gone before she gets there.”
Laughing, Katie ran to her bed to fluff the pillows, making it look like a body was under the blanket.
“You’re not serious?” I asked her dryly.
“What? I’ve never snuck out to a party before.” She looked down at her handiwork and shrugged. “This is what they do in the movies.”
I shook my head at her, pulling myself up through the window as she hit the light. I probably didn’t need to be corrupting her like this, but she clearly needed to get out more.
As we made our way through the dark streets, I was thankful for the sweater. The sky was clear, and it was a nice summer night, but the occasional breeze held an edge to it. Luckily, we weren’t going far. We could cut across the train tracks, behind the last row of houses, and straight through the schoolyard on the way there. It shaved at least ten minutes from the trip, and I really was hoping to avoid interacting with Jessie, as much as I could.
“Are you going to tell me where we’re going?” Katie had mostly been content to walk in silence, enjoying the world lit up with a night sky. Since I still didn’t understand how she was taking the earlier conversation so well, I decided to not disturb her. Instead, I quietly enjoyed watching her embrace her stollen freedom.
“Give it another minute and I won’t have to.” I pointed ahead at the highway. This time of night there wasn’t a lot of traffic, but there were still enough cars to drown out the noise of anything going on nearby. As we got closer you could hear the usual sounds of people gathering, soft music, and the occasional laughter. Under the overpass there was a decent collection of what appeared to be college aged people, all broken off in small groups. Some circled around fires, drinking and chatting, others tucked away in darker corners of the space with no trepidation around public displays of affection.
“How did you know this was the spot from one picture?” Katie asked, taking in the scene with wide eyes.
As we passed a cement wall I pointed to a section of paint, large chunks of whatever the image had once been were missing. In one spot all that was left was a large green swoosh. “I walk through here sometimes on my way to the park.”
“Katie!” Two tall figures called out as they crossed toward us.
“Oh, joy.” I grimaced as I recognized Jessie’s male friends from the coffee shop. The blond was still wearing his camo print sweater. The redhead had changed into joggers and sneakers, with a tank top the same color as his hair baring his shoulders. Even his casual clothing matched meticulously.
“Hey guys.” Katie’s voice was covering her distain only marginally better than mine.
Camo sweater offered me a cup of who knows what. “Want a drink?”
“No, thanks,” I answered. Party rule number one, do not accept drinks from creeps. When Red offered his cup to Katie, she took my lead and declined it.
“So, how’s the shindig?” I asked.
“Meh.” Camo sweater shrugged his shoulders.
“Is Jessie not coming?” Red asked. Barely hiding that it was the only reason the two of them had approached us.
“She’s not here yet?” Katie asked.
“No. We thought she would be coming with you.” Camo sweater seemed more agitated than I thought reasonable at the question.
Katie looked around, shifting on her feet. “I’m sure she’ll be here.”
Red tapped his companion on the shoulder and made a nodding motion with his head toward a group of girls arriving behind us. Then, as they started to walk away, he turned to us. “If you see Jessie, tell her we’re looking for her?” I nodded, and he smiled, lifting his cup at me. Camo sweater didn’t even bother with a goodbye.
Katie blew out a large breath once they were gone.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. I, for one, was glad they had found something more interesting to focus on.
“Jessie may murder me.”
She pulled her phone out to show me the text again. “She took a screenshot of the invite.”
“So, you’re not supposed to do that. They send it out the way they do so it deletes after you close the message. You aren’t supposed to share the image or directions. They knew she was the only one to get this.” She groaned and rubbed her cheek with her hand. “If I ruin her getting another invite, she might just end me.”
“Aw, don’t worry.” I put my arm around her. “I’ll send pretty flowers to the funeral. How do you feel about lilies?”
She let out a whimper, leaning her head against my shoulder as we meandered into the crowd.
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