Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Cambion Chronicles: Book 4 Chapter Four


 “The hell wrong with you, Sam? Never mind — trick question. But how you gonna blow up my boy’s spot like that? X ain’t been to school all week on account of you snitchin’.” Hot air and noisy spittle crackled the line as Dougie fumed on the other end of the phone.
I dropped a folded pair of jeans in my bag and glared at the phone by the nightstand. I had Dougie on speaker while finishing the last-minute packing I should’ve done last night.  Angie insisted that I wouldn’t need anything, but if I was going to stay at a strange place for a whole weekend, I wanted to be prepared. The operation required two free hands, thus allowing this grown-man hissy fit to commence in stereo.
“Dougie, real talk, do you have any white friends? I mean any? In regards to your argument, you guys knew each other a month and now you act like you lost a soul mate. And let’s not forget that ‘your boy’ was a plant sent to spy on you!” I stressed the last bit, hoping logic would sink in quicker.
“But why would he think that, though? I’m not one of you.” The way he said that made me think of how my Grampa would refer to Dad as one of “them people.” Though two different issues, both annoyed me for the same reason.
“And what’s that supposed to mean, Douglas?” I stuffed extra underwear in my suitcase. “Oh, we’re cool to hang out with, but you wouldn’t want to be one, right? You like the swagger, but none of the ugly that comes with being what we are.”
“No. What I don’t like is someone playing puppet master with my body,” he snapped. “What are you even talking about?”
That was a good question because I didn’t know anymore. “Look, if Xander’s gone, then that must mean you checked out okay. He might move on to a new suspect. Or he might show up to school on Monday, business as usual. At least now you know what’s up.”
“Man, this is some BS!” Dougie’s petulant whine reminded me of a kid picked last to play kickball. “First Caleb, then that Olivia chick and now Xander. Whenever I meet a new friend they end up being a demon—”
“Hey, watch it with the D word.” I cut him off. “We’re Cambions. It’s not the same thing.”
“It’s close enough. Where’s your boy anyway?” he asked.
Using my elbow, I dropped down on the bag in a body slam, which scored me an extra inch of room. “Why you ask? You miss him?”
“No,” Dougie answered a little too quickly to be believed. “Just wondering why you’re breathing so heavy.”
I stared down at the luggage on my bed, stuffed with three days’ worth of clothes and calculating my next move. “I’m trying to close the zipper to my suitcase. I’m leaving in a few minutes and I don’t have time to repack.”
“Try sitting on it then zipping it up. Works for Mia when she over-packs.” He suggested.
To my surprise, the trick actually worked. “Thanks, Dougie.”
“Yeah.” A long, awkward pause occupied the line before he spoke again. “Listen, I gotta go. Have fun at your monsters ball. Try not to eat anybody.” He hung up. No goodbye or anything. Typical. Dougie and I still had a ways to go, but we were making progress. At least he was calling, even if it was to chew me out.
I tucked my phone in my pocket, did a quick scan of my room, and then took a final inspection in the mirror. The black curls piled on the top of my head were a battle I’d lost hours ago, and it was best not to disturb that sleeping beast unless absolutely necessary. Since I’d be around Cambions all weekend, I saw no reason to rock the brown contacts I usually wore to school. Lilith, ever-sensitive to eyewear, was grateful for the reprieve. My tan sweater was a cashmere, off-the-shoulder number that Mia bought me for my birthday and it probably cost more than my entire wardrobe. It made for a better first impression than the hoodies and jeans that were my uniform. But I was ashy as hell and needed lotion.
While slathering on half a jar of cocoa butter, I felt that familiar tingle on the back of my neck. It traveled to the base of my skull and hovered with the light pressure of a kiss on that very spot. The unearthly twinge started late this morning, right around the time Caleb’s plane touched down on Virginian soil. Then, it had been just a faint hum, the booming sound system from an approaching car. But now, Lilith vibrated on a supersonic frequency that gained intensity upon Caleb’s approach.  It activated all my senses at once and streamlined into a singular craving. I needed to touch, smell, taste, and hear him.
I grabbed my suitcase and dragged the load downstairs. Mom must’ve heard all the clunking noises and she met me at the bottom, ready to share her latest paranoia straight from the headlines. There was little time to hear the impending cautionary tale. Caleb was close, less than a block away now.  I could feel his thumbs tapping his steering wheel, his eagerness a mirror reflection of my own.
Like a kid who’d heard the ice cream truck, I dropped my luggage in the foyer, ran passed Mom, and flung open the door just as his black Jeep rolled to a stop at the curb. It took all my physical strength to keep cool and not run to him. Cambion-mate or not, Samara Nicole Marshal hadn’t completely lost her mind over a boy.
Who was I kidding?
As soon as his head appeared over the roof of his car, my feet sprouted wings. He stepped around the side of the Jeep, looking tired from his travel. Weary eyes likely hid under those dark shades, but his smile, my morning sun peeking over the horizon, was on full display.  His pace quickened with mine until our collision stopped us in the middle of the yard.
He caught me in his arms and I wrapped my legs around his waist. I snatched the shades off his face and kissed him for all I was worth. My fingers sank into his soft brown hair, messing it up even more. We were a hot pretzel of lips and limbs for what Caleb would later tell me were five minutes, but time didn’t exist when you’re this far gone. The slight trimmer of Caleb’s body told me he felt the same way, but he was better at playing it off than I was.
“I don’t think I can make it to the car like this, Sam.” Caleb chuckled between kisses.
“Try,” I murmured with my mouth planted to his.
Between hooded lids, pale lavender light slid through his thick lashes, courtesy of the homesick spirit within. Capone was hyped for our reunion as well, and Lilith preformed her own lightshow for her mate.
We heard a throat clear in the distance and soon realized we weren't alone in the yard. Mom had stepped out of the house with my suitcase in tow. Caleb ambled to the porch with me latch to his torso like a koala cub.
“Hello, Ms. Marshall. You look beautiful,” he told her.
“Uh-huh,” Mom replied with a guffaw. “What color is my dress?”
Caleb loosened his hold and set me back on the grass, keeping our bodies connected on the way down.  His stare never left mine as he answered, “Green with gold flecks.”
“Her dress is beige with white flowers,” I corrected him.
“I'll take your word for it.” Caleb pulled away then jogged up the porch steps to collect my bag.
As expected, Mom ran down her list of safety measures, but thankfully kept the weeping and baby talk to a minimum. If I hated the whole party idea before, seeing Mom’s watering blue eyes sealed the deal. She’d occupied the front row of every ceremony and award I’d ever received and now the right to witness my biggest achievement was stripped from her. Angie promised she would send Mom pictures, but it wasn’t the same. Not even close.
“Try not to worry, Ms. Marshall. She’s in good hands.” Caleb gave her shoulder an assuring squeeze.
In a blink, her expression changed from happy housewife to rabid mama bear.  “You have more at stake if something happens to her than anyone else does. I don’t need to warn you what carnage will ensue if Samara is hurt? We’ve done this dance before; you don’t need a refresher, do you?” she asked with deadly sweetness.
“No, Ma’am.” Caleb cleared his throat and backed away from the porch slowly. “I will protect her with my life.”
Mom nodded in approval. “I’m counting on it.”
After loading the car and a final round of hugs, Caleb and I high-tailed it north on the interstate. For two hours, we fought over the satellite radio stations and discussed school drama, work, Xander, and my argument with Dougie, which he found amusing. Like Ruiz, Caleb wasn’t shocked by the follow-up visit from a Santiago. “It’s all protocol. They’re anal like that,” he’d said with his eyes trained on the road.
The only topic off limits seemed to be his sister’s wedding. He made a flippant comment about the drunken deejay and getting forced to do the Chicken Dance, but withheld any detail that signified a pleasant trip. Clearly, things didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but I wouldn’t pry the details out of him, either by memory extraction or good old fashioned nagging. Cake Boy had more issues than Cosmo, of which he would reveal to me in his own sweet time.
I wasn’t the only one picking up on bad moods, because from out of nowhere, Caleb said, “I get the feeling that you don’t want this party. Any reason why?”
“I can give you five off the bat.”  I nestled back into the head rest and ranked each issue based on annoyance. “Number five: I don’t know these people. Number four: I really, really hate being the last to know stuff. Number three: the party’s for me, but none of my friends and family are invited and I have no say over the music selection. Number two: I don’t have a fancy dress. And taking the number one spot for ten consecutive months is…” I tapped the dashboard for drumroll effect. “Whenever there’s a celebration with us involved, something bad happens. It’s a given at this point.”
“Yeah, I thought of that, too.” Caleb agreed with a furrowed brow. “But it’s too late to cancel now, and I’m sure Evangeline will help you out in the wardrobe department. Whatever you wear, it has to be jade green.”
That struck me as odd. “Well, it is my favorite color.”
“It’s also Lilith’s signature and your eye color. All the Petrovsky females will be wearing green. The Cambion families will be color coordinated the same way.”
I leaned away and gave him a good once over, imagining him rocking a purple suit. That alone was worth going to the party. “So what was your debut like?” I asked. “Maybe you could give me some pointers on what to expect.”
“I didn’t have one,” he replied.
What surprised me more than his answer was that I didn’t know that already. Then again, not all of our memories transferred through feeding and not all of them remained once the energy wore off. For that reason, I pounced on the chance to learn something new about him for a change. “Why not?” I asked.
Instead of an answer, he tucked light brown strands behind his ear, drawing attention to his dire need of a haircut. The longer his hair grew, the wavier it got and it now hung at his neckline, brushing his shoulders.
“Our family isn’t part of the inner circle,” he said finally. “That sort of celebration is for the flaky upper crust. My family’s influence is basically zilch in the Cambion circuit. And thanks to all this crap with my father and the Santiago justice league, our stock has taken a nose dive.” He rubbed his face as if to clear his mind. “We’re bottom rung, Sam, and I can guarantee that if you weren’t my mate, my brothers and I wouldn’t have been invited.”
Damn, Cake Boy just couldn’t get a break, forever on the outside of something, dancing in that in-between where you’re neither and both. Yeah, I knew the lyrics to that song by heart, and having another outcast by my side made the music a bit more tolerable.
I took his right hand from the steering wheel and held it in mine. Brown and pale white fingers fastened together like teeth on a zipper. “Well, I for one am proud to be with you. Even in public, in broad daylight.” I smiled at him.
Keeping our fingers locked, he brought my hand to his lips and kissed the wrist.
The GPS alerted us that we reached our destination, but only forest and empty road lay ahead. The Jeep took a sharp left onto a path you could’ve easily driven past if you weren’t looking for it.  Hidden from the main road, a tall iron gate capped with gold emerged from the foliage.
Caleb rolled down his window, pushed the intercom then announced our arrival. A moment later, the gates parted and we cruised up the mile-long path of Downton Abbey. Acres of green rolled out before us, sectioned in quads by four garden mazes. Water fountains stood inside each maze, their spray arched high over the spade-shaped trees that lined the paved drive.  Then there was the house itself, a stone giant with outstretched arms ready to engulf visitors and pull them towards its chest. Its head was a gold-plated clock braced on the shoulders of stone cherubs. More gold dripped from the roof onto the top windows and balconies like melted wax. At the top of its lungs, the place screamed Old World decadence, further proving that this party wasn’t a chips and dip sort of gig. 
“Intimidated?” Caleb asked, his eyes glued to the narrow path ahead.
“A bit,” I admitted, wondering if I needed a corset and a powdered wig to enter the place.  “I never knew we had palaces in Virginia. Just mansions and old plantation houses.”
“It’s actually a French chateau. Some rich tycoon modeled it after the Palace of Versailles and went bankrupt a third of the way through construction. The place stayed on the market for years before the Santiago’s bought it on auction.”
“A third? There was more to this place?” I asked. The building alone was the size of two football fields and made my grandpa’s mic-mansion look like a double-wide. I was definitely out of my element.
“Have you ever seen the real Versailles?” He saw the annoyed look on my face then said, “Never mind. It’s a like a small city. Maybe I’ll take you to France one day as a belated birthday gift.”
“Nah, you being here is gift enough. And those kickass headphones you gave me. And the balloons.  And the ten free slushies coupon,” I added.
He smiled at that, his dimples sinking into his cheeks. “You’re so easy to please.”
“Depends on if you know what I want.” My statement hung in the air as a challenge.
He answered with a heated leer that promised we would settle that score later.
The path fanned out to a wide rectangle where several expensive vehicles were already parked. Caleb pulled into the space by the entrance then climbed out. I joined him on rubbery legs that had fallen asleep during the long commute.
Servants in white poured out of the tall glass doors to assist with the luggage. With a lot of bowing and curtseying, they instructed us not to lift a thing while on the property. As one of the butler people took Caleb’s keys, I noticed the man’s eyes were a deep Crayola green, the color of fake grass.
“He’s a Cambion too?” I whispered to Caleb on our way up the stone steps.
“Everyone here is. Non-Cambions are prohibited at these gatherings.”
I got that much, but were they relegated to wait staff? “Wouldn’t they be guests as well?” I asked.
“Only the thirteen families are guests. Everyone else is a civilian. They’re not good enough to attend, but good enough to serve,” Caleb replied, and the bite of his words revealed more about his lowly status than the worker’s.
We stepped through the vestibule, taking in the Phantom Of The Opera vibe of the interior. The curved staircase owned the room, a mythical serpent with two heads branching toward opposite ends of the second floor. The high ceiling revealed five stories, and curious eyes peered down at us from theater balconies.
More domestics in white greeted us in the lobby, their heads bowing as they addressed us by name. They moved about in a hurry, carrying bouquets and chairs toward an open room where I assumed the festivities would take place.
“You’re late. I was beginning to believe you wouldn’t show. I should be so lucky.” A heavily accented voice spoke nearby.
Like twins, Caleb and I groaned in unison and turned toward the archway on our left. Olivia Petrovsky, Cambion ‘soul sister’ and queen of Resting Bitch Face, leaned against a pillar, looking bored and unimpressed with life. Wearing a white button-down shirt and a gray pleated skirt, she appeared to have been dragged out of her private school to come here. She was the spitting image of Nadine: a tall, captivating blonde who owned a death stare that would make Medusa look away. Olivia even wore her hair in the same messy braid over her shoulder as Nadine had. On sight, Lilith whined in remembrance of her former host and longed for the sibling comradery she once shared with Olivia. Too bad reconciliation wasn’t in my list of priorities. The girl was prickly on a good day and intolerable the rest of the time.
Caleb bowed his head. “Olivia.”
“Caleb.” Her emerald eyes darted to him in the briefest of acknowledgements. “Mama is in a meeting with the Santiagos, so she wanted me to show you around. That is if you’re not too busy.”
“Aw, I always have time for you, sis.” I gave her a nasty grin, which she returned with venom only her reptilian kind could produce.
“We’re having dinner at eight with the family. In the likelihood that you don’t have formal attire, clothing will be provided for you. Come along.” She glided toward the open mirrored entryway that held all the commotion. “We will have rehearsals in the morning and then a last-minute resizing for your gown.”
“This is beginning to sound more and more like a wedding,” I said and turned to Caleb for backup. He nodded and quietly surveyed our surroundings. 
“In many ways it is. The celebration has a dual purpose, a political statement of sorts,” Olivia explained. “In order for Caleb’s family to be acknowledged as part of the Petrovsky line, your bonding has to be publicly declared. Since all the families will attend the event, it will be set in stone.”
It all came off as some outdated feudal system, but I rolled with it.
Caleb and I followed her to what I’d forever refer to the “Hall Of Stupid Money”. It ran the length of an airplane runway and hit every item of the bourgeois checklist. Bleached marble paved the flooring below, crystal chandeliers hung from above with naked, chubby babies painted on the ceiling. Wall mirrors galore, gold plated everything, and curly-Q antique furniture that was once owned by Louis the whoever. I’d need a map to find my way out of the place, or at the very least, a golf cart. By the time we reach the third floor, I wanted to punch out the idiot builder who forgot to install an elevator.
Olivia led us through yet another frou-frou hallway and announced, “This wing is where the guests of honor reside. Mama and I are down that hall and the two of you are at the opposite end.”
Her voice faded in the background when I noticed Caleb lagging behind. He faced the wall to our right and stared, transfixed at what I’d dismissed as funky wall paper. Under closer inspection, it was an eight-foot-tall mural that ran the length of the entire corridor. After examining the figures inside the desert landscape, realization hit me square in the gut.
“Is this what I think it is?” I asked Olivia and marveled at the masterpiece.
She joined our side, and for the first time since we’d arrived, a smile brightened her face. “Yes. It is the Origin Tale in living color. The Santiago’s commissioned Mama to paint it.  It took her two years to complete and required seven men to transport it to the estate.”
That made sense. The Petrovskys were the historians of the race, and Angie’s paintings were sought by private collectors around the world. Seeing her brush work up close, I understood why she was in such high demand. The grains of sand, the tiny huts; the expressions of each character had been captured with haunting detail.
Touching the mural’s bumpy surface, we charted the sequence of events down the corridor. Scenes I’d read in Angie’s journals preformed a reenactment on canvas: the celestial event, the birth of the inhuman child, its bewitchment and terror upon an entire village, the villagers’ retaliation, the brutal execution of the creature, and the curse that rose from the flames and plagued mankind for centuries. It was all there, our history blending in with the rest of the gaudy décor, hiding in plain sight.
 “There are no known records of a name, but the ancient ones referred to the being as ‘The Crux’, the root of us all,” Olivia supplied with the grace of a museum tour guide. “They say that the being had no gender and grew into an adult in a year’s time. Its beauty was so profound that gazing into its eyes would cause seizures.”
Caleb stopped at a depiction of an ancient victory dance around a bonfire. “Did the villagers really chop the body into ten pieces before burning the remains?”
As a hardcore fan of the morbid and macabre, Olivia traced fingers along the pyre’s black smoke in a manner of worship. “Yes. This is why there are ten original families. The other three are byproducts of the ten.”
“Byproducts?  You mean like a spinoff of the original series? How does that work?” I asked.
Olivia blinked out of her momentary trance then backed away from the mural. “Consult a mirror and your own experience for that answer, Samara. You are not the first offshoot among our kind and you won’t be the last. You are simply the most recent to date.”
I poked out my bottom lip. “Aw, shucks. And here I thought I was a rare and special snowflake.”
“You would. This way.” Olivia slinked down the hall, her long braid wagging behind her.
My hands enclosed the space in front of me as I imagined it was Olivia’s neck. A warm hand settled on my lower back and eased me away from the wall-sized picture book.
“Leave it alone, Sam,” Caleb mumbled out the corner of his mouth. “She’s being civil, all things considered. Remember, we’re outsiders encroaching on her turf.”
Olivia spun to a stop in front of a set of double doors. “Your suite is through here and Caleb’s is right across the hall.”
Caleb snapped to attention and blurted out, “Suites? As in plural?”
 “Yes, Caleb, Plural. The Santiagos are very conservative. Perhaps if you two were legally married, you could share a suite, but for now we must remain respectful to our hosts.” She flung open the doors and we entered the Fabergé egg that was my new lodgings.
All the extravagance should’ve been old news by now, but as I pivoted in the middle of the floor, wonderment returned in an emerald and gold color scheme. A four-post bed covered with embroidered pillows took up most of the room.
I was tempted to dive in, but I paused on sight of the black cocktail dress and matching flats lying on the bed. There was no need to check the size—I knew it would fit. The same way I knew that all my things had been unpacked and put away by some low-ranking Cambion turned house elf.  I would’ve never picked out that getup on my own—not my style and nowhere near my price range. I suspected the dress code was one of many ways the Santiagos threw their weight around, and more shot-calling would likely accompany tonight’s dinner.
Caleb leaned against the door frame with his legs crossed at the ankles. Wearing a reserved, almost blank expression, he regarded the fresco painted on the ceiling. “This is some honeymoon suite. Separate but equal.”
I rolled my eyes. Of all the things to gripe about, Caleb chose the sleeping arrangements? “Funny, ‘cause I don’t remember us getting married,” I told him.
He slid his hands into his pockets and drew deeper into the room. All his focus, all his energy was centered on me with an intensity that emitted a violet glow from his eyes. “You don’t remember New Year’s?”
Fighting the urge to blush, I said, “Vividly.  But I wouldn’t constitute that as a wedding. You should know what one of those look like. Didn’t you just leave one?”
“I did, so I can say in all confidence that it pales in comparison to what we have.” His throaty reply made me painfully aware of the king-sized bed sitting three feet away.
“If you two are quite finished,” Olivia cut in. “I need to get ready for dinner before I lose my appetite. Perhaps after the ceremony and you complete the consummation rite, the family will reconsider the sleeping arrangement.”
Whatever I was about to say took a back seat to Olivia’s comment. “I’m sorry—the what?”
 “The consummation rite. It’s an act to show everyone you are a mated pair,” she clarified.
“What kind of act?” I asked, taking the defensive. “It sounds like the Cambion A-list is getting dinner and a show. I’m not getting naked in front of a bunch of strangers.”
“Trust me, no one here wants to see that. I certainly don’t,” she said dryly. “Anyway, the Santiagos hate to wait, so you’ll need to arrive downstairs at eight sharp. There’s a phone and a directory by the bed if you need assistance.” She went for the door, but I blocked her path. 
 “Not so fast. Let’s back up to this consummation thing. Why am I just now hearing about it? How do we prove that we’re mated?” I asked.
Olivia peered down at me with a wicked quirk of her lips. “Wy musicie krwawić w oczach świadków.”
Say what? Language wasn’t the problem, but what the words meant for me and Caleb. I pushed out my hands to stop the crazy train from moving any further. “You wanna run that by me again?”
“You are fluent in Polish, yes? There is no need to repeat myself.” She stepped around me and sauntered to the door. “As amusing as your imagination is, it is not as bad as you might think, Samara. It’s just a formality.”
I wasn’t convinced, and Mia’s comment about rituals and chanting sounded less farfetched. By the time I recovered from that little bombshell, Olivia had disappeared. “Wait—hold up. Olivia!” I called after her, but she was already gone.
“What did she say that’s got you so worked up?” Caleb asked. “Whatever we have to do can’t be that bad.”
 “Sure, if you don’t mind opening a vein in front of—” I turned and found Caleb laying spread eagle in the bed with his eyes closed. I didn’t need empathic powers to feel his fatigue from across the room and I didn’t have the heart to send him to his own suite. But we were at the mercy of our hosts, in more ways than one.
Caleb’s head lifted from the pillow and shook the fog from his brain. “What did you say?”

I froze to the spot, unsure how to translate psycho cult activity into Standard English. He was just as clueless as I was about the ceremony and he had a right to know what was in store for us. I took a deep breath and my next words ruined whatever rest he’d planned on having tonight. “In order to prove we’re legit to everyone, we’re gonna have to bleed.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Cambion Chronicles: Book 4 Chapter Three

Hey Guys! So sorry for the wait.  I’ve been working on multiple stories at once and I haven’t had the time to post chapters as regularly as I hoped. Now that I have some extra time, I can now post weekly as I wanted. Chapter 4 will be up next Wednesday and the party really begins!
Click the links to read Chapter One and Two
Leave a comment below for feedback and predictions!


The first step in vanquishing an opponent was learning as much as you could about them. You’d find out where they lived, what they liked to do on weekends, who they had a crush on and so forth.
Xander with an X had become a person of interest, and I needed proper confirmation to implement an attack. That quarter-profile glimpse was all I had to go on, because he nearly broke his neck trying to avoid me yesterday. Between classes, he’d duck into a side hallway or the boys’ bathroom, and went as far as slipping into the faculty lounge to get away from me. I was on to him and he knew it, which could be why he hadn’t showed up today.
This morning, I rolled up to school in bounty hunter mode to discover my target missing. Dougie mentioned something about a stomach flu, and even he knew that that was complete BS. Mia and Dougie were already suspicious of my plan, so I had to extract info from the student body. What I got was an unusual string of accounts that had me raising an eyebrow throughout the day.
“I heard he got a girl pregnant and had his family ‘take care of it’, Mafia style, if you know what I mean,” a girl in my Spanish class whispered during our pop quiz.
“Ohmigosh, he’s so hot! I heard he was a model in New York and he had to leave the business because this one chick was stalking him.” My co-worker, Alicia Holloway gushed on her way to gym. I turned on my heels and left her fangirling in the middle of the hall as I headed to the cafeteria.
“He’s a handsome devil, ain’t he? Reminds me of my late husband — heaven rest’em. It’s funny ’cause he looks nothin’ like ‘em. But somethin’ in his eyes got me thinkin’ ’bout my Henry. Whenever he comes through the line, I gotta remember I’m old enough to be his grandmother,” the lunch lady supplied and slapped a pile of tater-tots on my tray.
“Yeah, I heard he spent the summer in a detention center for setting a church on fire or something. Pretty badass,” Midnight, the vampire kid, said from across the lunch table.
“I don’t know, but there’s been a lot of the peculiar happening around here. Like that Malik boy that went missing not too long ago. Found his truck on the Parkway, but never found his body. I figure there’s gonna be more ‘peculiar’ going down before the school year’s out — mark my words,” Mr. Graves, the custodian grumbled while emptying the hallway trash.
By last bell, I was worse off than when I started. It was time to call in the big guns. I’d sent out a S.O.S at fourth period, and Jason Lao was just now getting back to me. On my way to the student parking lot, the gossip sleuth emerged from the crowd like a phantom and sidled next to me.
“Okay, here’s what I’ve got so far.” Jason consulted the data on his tablet as he kept in stride with me. “Xander Santos, age 18, Capricorn. Six-one, 173lbs.  Transferred from Herbert Mason Academy, a unisex Private school in Upstate New York. Has a 3.27 GPA. No current extracurricular activities. Drives a vintage black Pontiac GTO with a New York license plate. Speaks fluent Spanish and Portuguese. Listens to mostly EDM and Skrillex and he’s a fan of the Fast And Furious movies. Prone to chase sour Warhead candy with Red Bull during class,” he reported.
Jason Lao had the spy game on lock, but one detail confused me. I slowed my pace and asked, “Did you say Santos?” It sounded close to Santiago. Maybe it was a cover name like the one Ruiz used when he was on a case.
“That’s what’s printed on his transcripts.” Before I could ask how he got a hold of school documents, Jason cut me off. “Don’t even ask. Anyway, if you need to know more, it might take a few days. Xander’s a pretty private guy; keeps to himself.”
“No, I’m good for now. Thanks though,” I said when a shrill voice cut through our conversation.
“Oh my God, Selma! Are you after Xander, too?” Courtney B. chided as she brushed past me at the exit. “You’d think you’d learn your lesson after Malik Davis, but I guess not. I don’t know how Caleb puts up with you cheating, Sonoma. I would’ve kicked you to the curb a long time ago.” After serving me a nasty smirk, she sped off to join the other two Courtneys waiting for her. It was like a drive-by without the car. Even worse was the fact that her comment reached the ears of the most vicious news shark in school.
Catching the scent of blood in the water, Jason turned to me with a devious grin. “Is that true? You’re interested in Xander?”
“Hell. To the nah,” I replied slowly. “And if you post anything about it on your blog, we’re going to have a misunderstanding. One that involves piano wire and a shovel.”
With a quick nod, Jason scurried away, leaving me with more questions than before.  Maybe I was going about my operation the wrong way. On to plan B.
When I got home, I found Mom’s as well as Ruiz’s car parked in the driveway. Usually, no one was home this time of day, and my first thought was, “Oh my god! Somebody died!” My second thought was, “They better not be doing freaky stuff in there. That’s where I eat and sleep, people!”
Eventually, I climbed out of my car and entered the house, praying I didn’t walk in on something that would scar me for life. I found Mom and the detective cozied up on the living room couch with an opened photo album on their laps. The giggles and coos from Mom made it clear what they were looking at, and my joints locked in terror.
Oh no! Not the baby pictures. Please, don’t let it be the baby pictures.
Mom’s head popped up and she flashed me a dreamy smile. “Hi, Sweetheart. How’s my birthday girl?”
She was doing the goo-goo baby-talk thing, further validating my growing suspicion. Since Mom’s recent dive back into the dating pool, Mia had diagnosed her with ‘baby rabies’. Side effects included: moon-eyed nostalgia, digging up old photos and baby paraphernalia, staring too long at toddlers in the grocery store, crying over diaper ads, and rambling about ticking clocks. The symptoms got worse every year, but it flared up really bad around my birthday.
“Uh… hi. What’s going on?” I dropped my book bag in front of the stairs. The vertigo and hallucinations still occurred whenever I entered the living room, so I kept a safe distance in the foyer.
“David and I are just looking at old baby pictures,” she said. “You were such an angel. Ohhh! Look at those cheeks! I could just eat her up.”
“Are we really doing this now?” I asked. “Before you answer that — why aren’t you at work?”
“I decided to take a personal day and clean up around here and I found these photos,” Mom explained while lovingly stroking the laminated pages. “Oh look, David. This is Samara when she was two. She could never keep a diaper on, especially in daycare. She’d fling it at the other kids then run around naked as a jaybird. Such a free spirit. But would you look at all those curls! My beautiful baby.” Mom squealed and melted into the couch in a sniveling puddle of mush.
Someone kill me now.
I threw my head back and wailed to the ceiling, “My God, woman, pull yourself together! No one cares about my preschool exhibitionism. You’re being weird.”
“I don’t mind,” Ruiz spoke up. “You were a cute kid. A bit on the chubby side, but cute.”
“I still am, but thanks. Can I talk to you for a sec?” I motioned toward the kitchen.
Ruiz got to his feet then handed Mom a box of tissues before following me through the hall. Keeping my back to him, I used the short trip to the kitchen to think of a good ice-breaker. The Cuban Necktie wasn’t the most forthcoming person in the world and gathering intel from him required a ton of finesse. My mother and Angie oozed a subtle grace that could unearth a man’s darkest secrets. Lilith’s influence could enslave men at will, in turn, making me a black belt in gentle persuasion.
So when I heard Ruiz’s Italian shoes click on the kitchen tiles, I turned around and blurted out, “Who the hell is this Xander dude?”
“Good afternoon to you too, Samara,” Ruiz replied in amusement. “As for your question, I happened to have a nephew who goes by that name. But why you would know that is the real question.”
“Well, Uncle David, your nephew is now enrolled in my school and has an unhealthy interest in my friend.” I fired back.
The pause that followed told me that my report was news to him. “Really? Which friend would that be? Miss Moralez or Mr. Emerson?”
“Mr. Em—Dougie,” I replied, thoroughly confused. “Why on earth would he be after Mia?”
“She was at the park that night and had been in direct contact with the demon Tobias. The air exposure alone qualifies her for observation. It’s just a security measure. I wouldn’t worry too much about it.”
Lilith jittered up my spine at the name of her old mate, but the ‘Mia’ part was what had me leaning against the counter for support. “Are you saying that Mia might be contaminated? She didn’t breathe in any of the smoke,” I told him.
“You are aware of the origin story and how the beings first possessed a human host, aren’t you? Back then, the villager’s believed a funeral pyre was harmless as well, and look how that turned out,” he replied, and even his trash talk had a dry, straight-faced delivery. Though no longer a Cambion, Ruiz was born into the demonic hybrid world, and yet he acted the least human among us. “In any case, I wasn’t aware that Xander was already in town, but I’m not surprised. I’ll look into it,” he said.
“You do that.” My stare drifted to the clock on the microwave, noted the time then I rushed to the entryway.
My therapy session began in forty minutes and only death could excuse my tardiness. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one around here who needed therapy, but I was the only one being pressured to attend every appointment. Dad was at his wits’ end trying to get me back to normal—whatever that was. He had no clue I was a Cambion, and logic demanded that he put a name to the strange face that resembled his daughter. Unless a specialist wrangled demons on the regular, it wasn’t going to happen. But I had to at least act like I was trying.

 “I do have a question,” Ruiz called after me as I exited the kitchen. “Why does Julie have pictures of you drinking from the toilet?”
I stopped mid-step. My stomach lurched and my back curled inward. Only my parents and Caleb knew about my weird toilet water phase and that was three people too many. Photos or not, I wasn’t about to own up to a damn thing. “Well, why does she keep my baby teeth in an old pill jar in her sock drawer? I don’t know, man. Most moms be on that cray, especially my mom.” I raced upstairs to change and made a mental note to burn that photo album when I came home.
I had no problem getting up in someone else’s business, but when the tables were turned, I went deaf, blind and mute real quick. My roommate felt some kind of way about the weekly meetings and the ceaseless prodding as well. Whenever the counselor brought up Nadine’s death, Lilith skittered up and down my spine like a cat chasing a laser pointer. The death of her former host and her old mate trumped any trauma I might’ve experienced. But Lilith and I were one now, two souls sharing the same body, feeling the same loss and seeing the same vision of a dead body on my living room floor. I couldn’t go into any of that, though. In fact, I said as little as possible during my sessions for fear of getting thrown into a padded cell.
After an hour of mental yoga, I just wanted to go home, drown my sorrows in leftover birthday cake and fall asleep on the phone with Caleb, but I swung by the minimart near my house first. My gas needle was on E and I wouldn’t have time to fuel up before school tomorrow. Plus I had a new gambling habit to support. I wasn’t trying to go broke, so my first adult decree was to set a limit of three tickets per week. Effective tomorrow.
 Having the most paranoid mother on the planet taught me to remain aware of my surroundings and being a Cambion made me suspicious of male attention. You didn’t know what was genuine attraction or a side effect of the Cambion draw. The old dude working behind the register left no doubt that he suffered from the latter. Flashing all six of his teeth, he dragged out a ninety-second transaction to ten minutes of spitting weak game. Around his third mention of my green eyes was when Lilith began licking her chops at the invitation.
Down girl, I admonished in my head.
When the clerk handed me more change than required, I called him on it. He tore his greedy stare away from me long enough to check the register. “Pump five, right? You already have twenty on there.”
I turned to the store window. The parking lot was empty save the black Pontiac parked next to mine on the opposite pump. I noted its tinted windows and the New York license plate on the back. The odd part was that the driver wasn’t interested in the replenishment of his own vehicle. It could’ve been a mix-up, but the way he stood on my side of the pump and slipped the gas nozzle inside my fuel tank appeared deliberate.
By the time I got outside, he leaned against my car and watched numbers climb on the meter. This would’ve been the time to whip out the pepper spray hidden in my purse or run back in the store and call for backup, but I didn’t sense any dangerous vibes from him. Besides, I knew who he was. The muscle car tipped me off. The driver’s height, build and posture supported my hunch, and my growing annoyance confirmed it.
It’s not every day a hired spy offered to pump gas for you, but I’d seen too many gangster movies to know this wasn’t a kind gesture. At best, this was a simple meet-and-greet among local Cambions. At worst, it was a warning shot.
He kept staring at the pump, his face shrouded in dark waves that covered his ears. “You take Plus, right?” he asked.
As I approached my car, I still couldn’t see his face. “I’m actually a Regular kind of girl. It’s cheaper.”
“Oh come on, Samara, we both know there’s nothing regular about you,” he quipped.
Why wasn’t I shocked that he knew my name? He probably knew my social security number and bra size. “Yeah, well if you’re done playing gas attendant, I can take it from here.”
I expected more small talk, but he got right to the point. Since it was a question he already knew the answer to, the words came out as a statement. “You spoke to Ruiz about me.”
There was no point in lying and I wouldn’t know where to begin to care if Mr. X was mad at me for snitching. “You’re on my turf and you failed to give a proper intro. You guys are clearly related, so I figured he might know what’s going on.”
“He doesn’t, so I need you to stop interfering in things you don’t know about,” he said.
“I know that if you hurt my friends, my foot and your ass are gonna have a meeting. I know that much.”
Only after he pushed off my car and turned to me did his face come into full view. All the hype in school was real — he was a good-looking dude, but that could be the Cambion draw talking. Our kind wasn’t immune to each other’s allure.  However, anyone named Santiago made me dry-heave and Mr. X was definitely one of them. For real, it was like staring at Ruiz’s yearbook photo. They had the same stern jaw and full mouth, the same blank cyborg stare. Ruiz’s light brown eyes held some trace of humanity, but Xander’s coal-black orbs were straight alien spooky.
Now that the mystique was over, I focused on the issue at hand, to which he gave the “I’m not here to hurt your friends and I come in peace,” spiel that proceeded every war in history.
 “Yeah, because the Santiago’s are famous for their peaceful tactics,” I replied. “Dougie’s been through a lot and I don’t want him sucked into whatever you guys are trying to pull.”
He returned the gas nozzle to its cradle. “As long as Tobias is really dead, we won’t have a problem.”
At the name, Lilith did that twitchy thing up my spine, but I stood my ground. “He is dead. Caleb and I took care of that.”
“The family likes to be thorough. We don’t want any loose ends and I need to make sure that demon isn’t hiding out in Emerson’s body.”
I stared him up and down. “Aren’t you a bit young to be an agent of darkness or whatever?” I must’ve hit a nerve, because he rounded on me like he was ready to throw hands.
Instead he said, “I’ve been in the field since I was fifteen. We sometimes need young operatives for observation purposes. The spirit is the most active and unstable in our teens.”
The field? Operative? Was there a Cambion Quantico that I didn’t know about?  “Are you here to spy on me too?” I asked.
Wow. Even his smile looked robotic. I bet he had to watch a tutorial on how to emote before going undercover.
“I’m capable of multitasking, but my main target is Emerson,” he said.
I didn’t like the word “target” and Dougie’s name in the same sentence. I also didn’t like the smug look on his face, so I had to shut that down. Lilith wasn’t feeling him either and the visible world around me took on an emerald green tint.
“All right, I tried to be nice since you’re new and all. That doesn’t seem to be working, so let’s try something else.” I shoved his chest, sending him stumbling back against the car door. “Look all you want, but don’t touch. You lay one hand on Dougie, and I’ll take you out myself. I’m sure you’ve heard all about me and what I’m capable of.”
Xander no doubt caught the glow in my eyes and his smile vanished. “Is that supposed to scare me?” he asked.
“You don’t have to be scared for me to wreck your shit up. You just have to be stupid enough to believe that I won’t. Now get off my car!” The guy was a tank, but I manage to push him aside so I could open my door. I climbed in then started the engine, fully prepared to run him over on the way out when I heard tapping on the glass. 
Xander stood by my door gesturing with his fingers for me to roll the window down. No way was that happening. Then a lime green envelope was pressed flat against the window, one with curling designs and fancy handwriting.
His muffled voice traveled through the glass. “So I guess I’ll see you at the celebration then? Can’t wait.” He tucked the invitation in his jacket pocket then strolled to his car.
Ooh, I was pissed! Granted, he was a Santiago, but did all the family members have to come to my party? I needed to get this debut thing under control, or at the very least have a say in who was on the guest list.
I stomped on the gas and peeled out of the mini mart, hell bent on calling Angie when I got home. Score one for the bad boy, because he definitely won this round. But the next one would be mine. I would see to it.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Cambion Chronicles: Book 4 Chapter Two

Click HERE to read Chapter One!  
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In the demon-hybrid world, several rules must be obeyed if you enjoyed the luxury of breathing. Never kill a Cambion’s mate. Respect and submit to the Cambion authorities. Stay away from olive oil at all costs. Notify the local chapter of the Cambion Murder-Death-Kill Squad if you suspect someone converting into a full incubi or succubae. Only your mate and immediate family can know what you are. Don’t bring attention to your abilities, but by all means, reap the many benefits that come with manipulating people.
It’s pretty cut-and-dry, and yet I managed to break every rule in the span of eight months. How I wasn’t burned at the stake had involved a mix of luck and powerful allies. Though not of the supernatural variety, my worst transgression to date happened Monday morning: Avoid over-sharing, especially with best friends.
“You’re having a what?” Mia erupted, her whiskey brown eyes bugging out of her head.
I froze mid-step and did a sweep of our surroundings. The upper commons was packed with kids and teachers milling about before first bell. To my horror, Jason Lao had just exited the boys’ bathroom, and the last thing we needed was my Cambion status posted on his gossip blog.
“You wanna talk a little louder, Mia? I don’t think the surfers in Malibu heard you,” I hissed.
 “Oh! Sorry.” She tossed a glance over her shoulder then leaned closer. “But what’s a Cambion debut? Is it like a Quinceañera? Will there be an open bar? Or maybe it’s like a sorority-gang initiation?  Is there a ritual with robes and chanting? It might be a bit late for the virgin sacrifice.” She sniggered and poked her tongue out between her teeth.
“Whatever. It’s not like that. It’s just a ritzy party where I’m paraded around like a prized thoroughbred.” I headed in the direction of my locker with my eyes glued to the scratch lotto ticket in my hand.
I’d bought five of them on the way to school this morning as a birthday rite of passage. I’d gone through two of them since Mia and I met up in the parking lot and I hadn’t won jack. But it kept me busy until I could think of a proper response to her long list of questions. Yes, a list.
Mia and I had a serious rough patch, and she only agreed to reconcile if I answered everything she asked. It was against the Cambion rules, but she’d earned a seat at the grown-ups table after surviving a showdown with an incubus who hijacked her boyfriend’s body. Few females could say the same.
Mia seemed satisfied with my answer; though I could tell the meter was still running in her brain. “Is Caleb going?” she asked as we stopped in front of my locker.
“Yep. Called him last night and he said he’ll be back in time for the party. He has to come. He’s my mate and we have to announce our union publicly.” With a binder tucked under my arm, I dumped my back pack inside then slammed the door.  Leaning against my locker, I used one of Caleb’s “love quarters” to work on lotto ticket number three.
Unfazed by my new gambling habit, Mia moved out of range of the foil crumbs flying in the air. “That’s some birthday gift.”
“Yeah, one that I didn’t ask for,” I mumbled and took a mental account of my morning so far.
As was tradition, Mom busted through my bedroom door armed with pancakes, well-wishes and a retelling of her seventeen hours of childbirth. But Caleb had her beat with a 1AM video chat and a creepy rendition of Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy birthday, Mr. President.” It took me an hour to fall asleep after that disturbing serenade. Dad and the twins called me before school, and Dad practically double-dared me to request a birthday gift. I wasn’t stupid enough to press my luck. He already copped two cars for me last year, so I was content with a free dinner and a hug.
As hyped as I was about turning eighteen, the events of the past eight months seemed to mellow me out. All I really wanted was a stress-free year and for Mia to pick a new topic of discussion. The novelty of having a supernatural bestie hadn’t worn off for her yet and it was all we seemed to talk about anymore. Hopefully, these Q&A sessions will speed up the process so we could go back to just being Mia and Sam. I missed those two crazy gals something terrible.
 “I still don’t understand that bond mate thing,” she began while finger combing the dark beach waves on her shoulder. “I mean, you can actually feel each other, like some weird twin connection?” When I nodded, she asked, “What’s Caleb doing right now?”
I closed my eyes and entertained her curiosity, and admittedly my own. I’d spoken to Caleb last night, but I felt this maternal, and dare I say, needy impulse to check in on him. Our bond had amped the clinginess level to a billion percent, and the current separation intensified my loneliness and paranoia.
 With only the sense of touch as my guide, temperature, texture, body position, heartbeat and breathing told a story. When the pieces lined up, it formed a picture and an educated guess. I was a fast learner and with Caleb’s practice drills, my abilities would soon equal his.
 In a matter of seconds, a sudden urge to curl over made my body rocked back and forth. Slowly, my arms lifted and crossed over my chest. Air rushed into my lungs and my stomach muscles burned.
My eyes flew open and the rocking motion had stopped, but the stomach burn remained. Blinking away the trance, I looked up at the wall clock. Caleb’s habits, his sitting position and the two hour time difference added up to one conclusion.
“He’s working out. He has a weird morning routine where he does crunches and pushups before he runs. There’s something soft under him, like a mat. The air around him is cool, but no breeze, so he’s indoors. I think his hotel has a gym,” I reported then continued scratching. “Hey look! I won a dollar!” I showed her my winnings with glee.
Mia made a face at me and cocked a sculpted brow, clearly unimpressed. “But if Caleb works out, does it mean you’ll get that six-pack like he has?” she asked.
“I wish.” My laugh ended on a bitter whimper as I pushed off my locker. “Nope. I just get to feel the muscles cramping when he works too hard. I get tired when he does, I get angry when he does, I feel pain when he does, but I don’t have any lasting physical effects.”
“Well, that sucks.”  Mia continued her inquisition on our way to government class. She’d compiled a list of questions on her phone, but today she was just winging it. “What about bathroom stuff?”
I leaned away from her in horror. “Mia!”
“Inquiring minds want to know. If you two can feel everything, does that mean everything? Does he get cramps? What if he needs to pee real bad? Would you have to go too? Ooh, better yet—what about that little problem guys have when they wake up in the morning.”
My skin was too dark to visibly blush, but I felt my cheeks burn. I lowered my head, hiding a wicked smirk.
“Ohmigod!” Mia covered her eyes as if that would block the picture I painted in her head. “I can’t even…Ugh! So gross!”
“Shut up, Mia.” I bumped her arm. “You set the theme of this interrogation, not me.”
“Not just that—I mean the whole thing. You guys have different parts. How does that even work? You’re basically a guy in a girl’s body, Sam,” she exclaimed.
I was about to respond when the hall intercom chimed with a loud BING. “Samara Marshall, please come to the main office. Samara Marshall, please come to the main office.”
Hands on narrow hips, Mia pursed her glossy lips together and glared at me. “What did you do now?”
“Nothing. I just got here!” I shoulder through the crowd toward the main office with Mia fast behind me.
I pushed through the glass door and was bombarded with the sound of ringing phones and shuffling papers. Much like the halls, the office was riddled with green streamers and four leaf clovers on the walls. I marched passed kids standing in the attendance line until I reached the front desk. “Hi. Did you call for me?”
“Are you Samara Marshall?” A deep voice spoke to my right.
I turned and saw a man in a tan delivery uniform holding a giant bundle of balloons. “I’m Samara,” I answered with caution.
The man handed me an electric tablet and stylus. “I need you to sign this.”
A quick scribble and a “thank you” later, a carnival’s worth of balloons were placed in my hands.
Mia let out a whistle. “Wow. Somebody went all out for you. Is there a card?”
I dipped my finger through the web of ribbons and plucked out the white card. I knew who they came from before I saw the name of the sender, but I smiled all the same. “Caleb.”
 “Oh, that’s so sweet. You’ve got an admirer, Sophia.” The voice of Cortney B. drifted from the attendance line like a foul stench.
Mia and I turned at the same time to the cranky redhead smirking at us with pinched lips.  After getting rejected by Caleb at her own party, you’d think Courtney would’ve found her chill by now. But instead she expressed her butt-hurt with daily taunts and butchering my name. “Too bad Valentine’s Day was last month. But better late than never, right, Sangria?” she said.
Having no time to throw shade all morning, I delivered a parting jab. “Yes, and I don’t recall you getting gifts then either, none that you didn’t buy yourself.” With a flip of the head and flying curls, I walked away, leaving onlookers murmuring, “Ooh! Burn!” in my wake.
Unfortunately, it was hard to conduct a proper storm-off while pushing a parade float of balloons through the door. Once I managed to squeeze into the hallway, Mia offered to lighten the load. Caleb had bought eighteen balloons in my honor, but I had to do away with at least half of them to navigate the halls. When I turned to pass Mia her share, I was standing alone.
 Girlish squeals and giggles led me to the bottom of the handicap ramp where Dougie stood with crutches under his arms. Some said he was caught in a rap battle that turned violent; others said he was jumped by gang members. Both stories proved unlikely since Williamsburg was the preppiest town ever and Dougie’s lyrical bars were on the level with Vanilla Ice than Eminem. Only Mia, Caleb and I knew the truth behind Dougie’s injuries, and the rumors seemed to up his street cred. He had been talking to a tall boy who was holding his books when Mia leapt into his arms.
 “Hey, babe.” Dougie reached out to her with a free hand.
“Hey sweetie,” Mia said between kisses and ruined Dougie’s gel-spiked hairdo with her fingers.  After all that had happened, the wannabe thug and his Filipino princess were still going strong. There was no soul tie or supernatural bond holding them together. It was pure and organic with years of growth under their belt. A part of me missed that dynamic with Caleb, where he was just my boyfriend. My main squeeze.
While the two swapped tonsils, I sized up the tall boy who backed away from the scene upon my approach. I’d seen him around in the hallway a few times. He had a strong build, broad shoulders and a deep honey brown complexion. But much like now, I never got a good look at his face. He was either facing the other way or had a cap or hoodie on his head that covered his eyes. Yet, he seemed familiar somehow.
“Uh, sup, Samara,” Dougie said, his hazel eyes looking in every direction but mine.
Samara. Not SNM. Not Sam. That was cold. Even colder was the shifty, eyes-to-the-floor routine. Caleb’s brother, Michael had the same habit, but he did so to protect women from his Cambion allure. Dougie did it now out of fear of my Cambion allure, and I hated it.
When I first told Mia and Dougie what I was, I’d expected some pushback, particularly from Dougie. Being possessed by an incubus and having Caleb beat the ever-living crap out of him gave Dougie a crash course in demonology that he hadn’t signed up for. The recent removal of his upper body cast showed signs of a fast recovery, but only the physical kind. I could only guess what was going on in that head of his, because he barely spoke to me when Mia wasn’t around. But I could tell he was trying. We all were.
Again, my eyes wandered to the dark-haired boy who stood in the cut, trying hard to go unnoticed. It might’ve worked if he’d stop pacing in front of the drinking fountain. He was obviously waiting for Dougie, so why didn’t he come over and talk with us? Was he shy?
“Who is that guy? He looks new.” I tipped my head toward the stranger’s back.
 “Brand new and fresh out the box. He just transferred here a couple weeks ago,” Mia supplied. “Haven’t had a chance to talk to him. I heard he’s from up north, Boston or New York.”
“New York?” Something was definitely off.  And who the hell transferred schools close to the end of the year? And he appeared entirely too old and too ripped to be in high school. Maybe one on TV, but not around here.
“Yeah, X was talking about joining the wrestling team. He seems cool,” Dougie said.
“X? As in Professor X? Like the X chromosome?” I asked.
“As in Xander with an X,” Dougie explained.
Xander with an X? Oh, please. He was just asking to be a super villain. I studied the boy under my floating cloud of nylon and ribbons, trying to get a good look at his face. It was like a faceless man in a dream and no matter how hard you tried you couldn’t get him to turn around. I’d dealt with enough mystery men to last a lifetime. And there was something about him that was sending my spidey senses on high alert.
I must have spaced out for a second, because Mia waved a hand in front of my face then asked, “You okay, Sam? What’s wrong?”
After a blink, I found both Mia and Dougie giving me the side-eye. “What? Nothing.”
 “Don’t even try it. You got that ‘up to no good’ look. Does it have anything to do with that thing?” Dougie asked, no doubt referring to all things Cambion related.
“No. But while we’re on the topic of ‘that thing’,” I began with air quotes. “I can’t stress enough how you can’t talk to anyone about it. Especially your new buddy.”
Dougie looked at me like I was crazy. “You must be on that stuff. There’s no way I could tell anyone about what happened to us. Not everyone’s a bad guy, Sam.”
“Well, we both know looks can be deceiving,” I replied, which shut him up. Sure, I could be overreacting, but I’d learned from experience that anyone new in town was declared evil until proven decent. “Look, you guys need to be careful what you say and who you say it around. I’m going against the rules for just telling you what I am.”
 Even if what you are almost killed us,” Dougie fired back, and that shut me up. Yep, he was still raw about the whole demon possession thing, but it wasn’t like it was my fault. Well, it was, but indirectly.
“No snitching, no binging, no olive oil. What’s with all these rules anyway, Sam. It’s like you’re a Mogwai or something. Are you allowed to eat after midnight?” Mia teased.
“Please. I would’ve turned into one of those ugly gremlins on my first day,” I joked, but my heart wasn’t in it. I knew Mia meant no harm, but the comparison struck a nerve. On the outside, I was a brown, big-eyed munchkin that people found cute and wanted to cuddle. On the inside lurked an erratic demon spirit who required diet restrictions, or else wreak havoc on my town.
As self-awareness hit me with full force, the bell rang. Kids scattered around us as the power couple locked lips again and held up traffic with their drawn-out farewell.
Dougie was first to come up for air with pink lipstick covering his tan face. “I’m good, baby. I promise. Catch you later.” He limped away on his crutches toward the faceless boy. Mr. X sidled beside him, poised to catch Dougie in case he stumbled.
 “Happy Birthday, Gizmo!” I heard Dougie call out as the two vanished into the crowd.
 But I was too distracted by what I just saw: a strong jaw, a straight nose, and a semi-profile of a man I saw more times than I wanted to. If I’d blinked, I would’ve missed it, but that sneak peek was all that was needed to get my blood boiling.
The hand that landed on my shoulder startled me.
“Stop being so paranoid, Sam. He’s just a new kid trying to make friends. Relax and enjoy your big day,” Mia assured as we walked to our first period class.
I wanted to take her advice. I wanted to bask in my leap into adulthood, but the damage was done. When I caught a split-second glimpse of Xander with an X, my day was officially ruined. There was family resemblance, and then there was copy and paste, which was a common trait among Cambions within the same bloodline.  All three of Caleb’s brothers shared the doppelganger gene and it was hard to tell them apart when they were together.
 So, if the Santiagos wanted to spy on me, it would’ve been smart not to send an exact replica of my mom’s boyfriend. It was just sloppy. That family and their stupid rules had been the reason for Caleb and I completing our bond so quickly. Unless Caleb and I moved cross-country, we would forever be under the Santiagos’ thumb, jumping at their command, and attending a party that no one asked them to throw. And now Ruiz’s teenage clone has come to town to insure we abided by their stupid rules. Wonderful.
But then, why wasn’t Xander shadowing me? I was the black sheep of the Cambion world, the reprobate in need of twenty-four hour surveillance. They only sent spies like Ruiz to those who posed a threat or sparked their interest. For reasons that terrified me, Dougie had somehow gotten the Santiagos’ attention. And from what I knew about that family, that was never a good thing.

On My Emo Days...

On My Emo Days...
Some days are blacker than others