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!
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.