CHAPTER 19

Zoey

“I never did like him.” Heath kissed me on the top of my head and then ruffled my hair like I was two years old.

“You know I hate it when you do that!” I said, trying to smooth back my hair that was already too poofy because apparently nuns didn’t believe in flatirons.

“I never liked him, either.” Stark took my hand and kissed it. Then he looked Heath in the eye. “I don’t like it much that you and Zoey are Imprinted, but I don’t have a problem with you.”

“I’m cool with you, too, dude,” Heath said. “But I don’t like it much that you slept with Zo.”

“Hey, just part of the job description of being her Warrior, keeping her safe and all.”

“Okay, vomit,” Aphrodite said. “By the way, testosterone dorks, you should know Z dumped Erik—no matter what kind of spin he tries to put on it. Keep in mind she could do that to either of you if you get too damn annoying.” She unwrapped herself from around Darius, marched over to me, and looked me in the eye. “Ready to go in there and face the pain-in-the-ass masses?”

“In a sec.” I turned to Sister Mary Angela. “How’s Grandma this morning?”

“Worn out. I’m afraid she did entirely too much yesterday.”

“Is she okay?”

“She will be.”

“Maybe I should go to her and—”

I started to walk away from the dining room, but Aphrodite caught my wrist. “Grandma’s going to be fine. Right now I can promise you she’d rather have you figure out what we’re doing next than stress about her.”

“Stress? Did someone say they were stressin’?” Stevie Rae jogged around the corner of the hallway with Dallas at her side. “Hey there, Z!” She enveloped me in a big hug. “Sorry that I snapped your head off before. I guess we both have been stressin’ too much lately. Forgive me?” she whispered.

“Of course,” I whispered back and tried not to wrinkle my nose as I hugged her. She smelled like basement and earth and something else stinky I couldn’t identify.

“Hey,” I said quickly under my breath to her. “I dumped Erik and he’s hooked up with Venus—in front of everybody.”

“Well, that sucks like your mama forgettin’ your birthday,” she said out loud, not paying any attention to our audience.

“Yeah,” I said. “It definitely sucks.”

“You gonna go in and face him, or turn tail and run?” she asked with a wickedly cute smile.

“What do you think, Ado Annie?” Aphrodite said. “Z doesn’t run from a fight.”

“Who’s Ado Annie?” Heath asked.

“Dunno,” Stark said.

“That’s a character from the musical Oklahoma!” Sister Mary Angela said as she tried to stifle a giggle by clearing her throat. “Shall we have breakfast?” Smiling, the nun headed into the cafeteria.

I sighed and had the urge to run shrieking down the hall in the opposite direction.

“Come on, Z. Let’s go in there and get somethin’ to eat. Plus, I got stuff to tell y’all that’s gonna make your boyfriend issues seem like nothin’.” Stevie Rae grabbed my hand, and swinging it, pulled me into the dining room. Trailed by Stark, Heath, Darius, Aphrodite, and Dallas, we found seats beside Sister Mary Angela at the same table where Damien, Jack, and the Twins were already sitting.

“Hey, Z! You’re finally up! Check out the seriously yummy pancakes the nun cooks made us,” Jack bubbled at me.

“Pancakes?” My world instantly brightened.

“Yeah! There’re plates and plates of this stuff and bacon and hash browns. It’s better than IHOP!” He glanced down the table and yelled, “Hey! Pass the pancakes!”

Platters started to clatter our way, and my mouth began to water. I seriously heart me some pancakes.

“We like French toast better,” Shaunee said.

“Yeah, it’s not as mushy,” Erin said.

“Pancakes aren’t mushy,” Jack said.

“Merry meet, Z,” Damien spoke up, obviously defusing a pancake debate.

“Merry meet,” I smiled at him.

“Hey, except for your poofy hair you look lots better than you did before,” Jack said.

“Thanks. I think.” I said it through a big bite of pancake.

“I think she looks amazing,” Stark said from where he was sitting a little way down the table.

“Me, too. I like Zoey’s bed head,” Heath grinned at me.

I was rolling my eyes at both of them when Erik’s voice drifted across the room to me.

“Really, really crowded over there.” His back was turned to us, but that didn’t stop his voice from projecting obnoxiously.

Why couldn’t breakups be easy? Why couldn’t Erik just not be a butt? Because you really hurt his feelings flitted through my mind, but I was sick of being worried about Erik’s feelings. He’d been a possessive jerk! And what a damn hypocrite. He’d called me a ho, but it’d taken him less than a day to hook up with someone else. Jeesh.

“Wait, Erik’s with Venus?” Jack’s voice caught my attention.

“We broke up last night,” I said, nonchalantly forking pancakes onto my plate and waving at Erin to pass me the platter of bacon.

“Yeah, that’s what Aphrodite told us. But now he’s with Venus? Just like that?” Jack repeated, staring at Erik and the aforementioned Venus, who was spider monkeying all over him so much that I was shocked that he could eat. “I thought he was a nice guy.” Jack sounded totally young and disillusioned, like Erik had just burst his perfect-guy bubble.

I shrugged. “It’s okay, Jack. Erik’s not really a bad guy. We’re just bad together,” I said, hating how upset Jack looked. Wanting to change the subject, I announced, “Aphrodite had another vision.”

“What did you see?” Damien asked her.

Aphrodite glanced at me, and I nodded almost imperceptibly. “Kalona burning up vamps and people.”

Burning them?” Shaunee spoke right up. “Sounds like something I should be able to discourage. I am Miss Fire.”

“Right you are, Twin,” Erin said.

“Brain sharers—you weren’t in the vision.” Aphrodite jabbed her syrupy fork at the Twins. “Fire and blood and horror and whatnot were. You two were probably shopping.”

Shaunee and Erin narrowed their eyes at Aphrodite.

“Where was Zoey?” Damien asked.

Aphrodite’s gaze found mine as she answered. “Zoey was there. In one of my visions that was a good thing. In the other, not so good.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jack asked.

“The vision was confusing. Seemed like what I saw was a double-edged sword.”

To me it was obvious that she was stalling, and I was just opening my mouth to tell her to go ahead and tell them everything when Kramisha, who was sitting down the table to my right, raised her arm and waved around the piece of paper she was holding.

“I know what it means,” she said. “Or I know part a what it means. I wrote this before I went to bed last night.” She smiled at Sister Mary Angela. “After we finished watching that nun movie.”

“I’m glad you liked it, dear,” Sister Mary Angela said.

“I did, but I still think them kids was bad.”

“What are you flailing around?” Aphrodite asked.

“You could be a little patient,” Kramisha said. “And show some manners. It’s for Zoey anyway. Here, pass it down to her.”

The piece of paper was passed from person to person till it got to me. As everyone had probably suspected, it was one of Kramisha’s poems. I stifled a sigh.

As if reading my mind, Aphrodite said, “Please tell me it’s not another one of those prophetic poems. Goddess, they give me a headache.”

“Better stock up on Tylenol,” I said. I read the first line to myself, blinked, and then looked up at Aphrodite. “What did you say just a second ago? Something about a sword?”

“She said you bein’ there with Kalona was a double-edged sword. That’s what made me give you the poem now, ’stead of waitin’ for a more private time.” Kramisha’s sharp gaze found Erik, then she added, “I have more sense than some people ’bout puttin’ my business all out in public.”

“That’s the first line of this poem, ‘A double-edged sword,’” I said.

“That’s spooky,” said Stevie Rae.

“Yep,” I said, staring at the poem. “Spooky is a good word for it.”

“What do you want to do about it?” Damien asked me.

“I want to take the poem and, with the help of my friends, figure it out. But I want to do it at home,” I said simply.

Damien smiled and nodded. “Home. That sounds good.”

I looked at Aphrodite. “What do you think?”

“I think I miss the Vichy shower in my room,” she said.

“Darius?” I asked.

“We have to go back before we can focus on going forward.”

“Shaunee and Erin?”

They glanced at each other, and then Erin said, “Home. Definitely.”

“Stevie Rae?”

“Well, I have somethin’ to tell y’all before you make any big decisions.”

“Okay, go ahead,” I said.

I watched Stevie Rae suck in a big, long breath and then blow it out through her pursed lips, like she was taking an asthma test. Her words followed her breath and she spoke quickly and clearly, letting what she said carry throughout the room.

“There’re more red fledglings than just the kids here. They didn’t change when I did like these guys. They’re still bad. I think—I think they might still be connected to Neferet.” She turned to me and her eyes begged me to understand. “I didn’t say anything to you ’cause I wanted to give them a chance. I thought that they’d find their humanity again if they were just left alone and could think through things on their own, or if maybe I could help them. I’m sorry, Z. I didn’t mean to cause any problems and I never wanted to lie to you.”

I couldn’t be pissed at Stevie Rae. All I could do was feel relieved that she’d finally told me the truth.

“Sometimes you can’t tell your friends everything you’d like to tell them,” I said.

Stevie Rae let out her breath on a sob. “Oh, Z! You don’t hate me?”

“Of course not,” I said. “I’ve had to keep some pretty crappy secrets, so I get it.”

“Where are they?” Damien’s question would have seemed harsh, but his voice was gentle, his warm brown eyes filled with understanding.

“They’re in the depot tunnels. That’s why I just sealed off the dirt tunnel that I made to get everyone here. I didn’t want any of the others following us and causing the nuns problems.”

“You should have warned us last night,” Darius said. “We would have posted guards while everyone was sleeping.”

“There were rogue red fledglings at the other end of your tunnel?” Sister Mary Angela’s hand found the rosary that hung around her neck.

“Oh, Sister, you weren’t in any danger. Darius, we didn’t need to post guards, promise!” she quickly explained. “Those other kids are affected by daylight big-time. They never move around while the sun’s up, not even in the tunnels.”

Darius’s frown said he still would have posted a guard. Sister Mary Angela didn’t say anything, but I saw her fingers worrying her rosary beads. It was then that I noticed none of the red fledglings were speaking. I glanced at the only other red vampyre in existence. “Did you know about these other fledglings?”

“Me? Hell no. I would’ve told you right away,” Stark said.

“I should have told you right away. I’m real sorry I didn’t,” Stevie Rae said.

“Sometimes the truth can get buried and it’s hard to figure out how to uncover it,” I told her, and then I looked around the room at the other red fledglings. “You guys all knew, didn’t you?”

Kramisha spoke up. “We knew. We don’t like them other kids. They’s bad news.”

“They smell bad, too,” little Shannoncompton said from a ways down the table.

“They suck,” Dallas said. “And they remind us of how it used to be.”

“That’s something we don’t like to remember,” said muscle-y Johnny B.

I turned my attention back to Stevie Rae. “Is there anything else you want to tell me?”

“Well, I don’t think it’s smart for us to go back to the depot tunnels right now, so going home to the House of Night sounds good to me, too.”

“Then it’s settled. We go home,” I said.

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