When we woke up near dusk I couldn’t bear to think about Kalona and the dream, so I pounced on Heath. “Okay, time to call your mom and dad so they can tell you to come home.”
“Are you okay, Z?” Stevie Rae asked while she towel-dried her hair. She and I had stuffed things in my book bag while Heath showered, then we’d taken turns getting ready. Her question made me realize that in all that time I hadn’t done much more than mumble monosyllabic responses to anything she or Heath said.
“Yep. I’m okay. I’m just going to miss Heath, that’s all,” I lied. Okay, well, it wasn’t actually a lie, because I would miss Heath while we were in Italy, but that’s not why I hadn’t felt like talking.
Kalona was why I hadn’t felt like talking. I was afraid that if I said too much last night’s dream would start to babble from my mouth and I’d tell Stevie Rae everything, and I didn’t want to do that in front of Heath. No, there was more to it than that. I didn’t want to tell anyone about the new version of Kalona I’d seen.
I didn’t want to hear them tell me it was all smoke and mirrors.
Heath’s hug made me jump. “Aw, that’s sweet, Zo,” he said, oblivious to the terrible deception going on inside my head. “But you’re not going to have to miss me. I have a good feeling about this phone call.”
I shook my head at him. “No way is your mommy going to let you take off to Italy with me.”
Before I could say anything he punched his phone, and his end of the conversation began:
“Hey, Ma, it’s me.”
“Yep, I’m okay.”
“Yep, I’m still with Zoey.” Here he paused and then looked at me and said, “Mom says to say hi.”
“Tell her ‘hi’ for me.” Then I whispered: “
He nodded. “Hey Ma, speaking of Zo, she and some of the House of Night kids are going to Italy. Venice actually, well more like that island that’s by Venice. You know, San Cle-something. Where the vamp High Council meets and stuff. I want to know if I can go with them.”
I could hear his mom’s voice rising and I had to suppress a smile. I’d known his mom would freak.
Of course I hadn’t known the card Heath had up his fibbing sleeve.
“Hang on, Mom. It’s really no big deal. It’s like that trip I wanted to take with the Spanish teacher last summer, but couldn’t go ’cause of football practice starting. Remember?” He nodded to whatever his mom was saying. “Yeah, it’s a school thing. We’ll be gone eight days, just like the Spanish trip. Actually, I bet I can use my Spanish ’cause Italian is, like, a cousin.” He paused again and then said, “Okay, yeah, that’s cool.”
“She says I have to ask Dad,” he whispered, covering the phone with his hand.
Then I heard a deeper voice get on the line, and Heath said, “Hey, Dad. Yeah, I’m good.” He waited while his dad talked, and then continued, “Yeah, that’s basically the deal. It’s a school trip. I can do my homework online.” Heath smiled in response to what his dad was saying. “Really? They’re calling off school for all of next week ’cause of power outages in the neighborhoods?” He waggled his eyebrows at me. “Wow, that makes this trip super-convenient. And, get this Dad, since we’re flying on the House of Night’s private jet, and staying at the vamp’s island, it’s not gonna cost me anything.”
I ground my teeth together. I could not believe he was working his parents so easily. Of course, it was true that even though Nancy and Steve Luck were nice people and pretty good parents, they were absolutely clueless about teenage stuff. Seriously. Heath had been drinking for years and they never noticed, not even when he came home smelling like puke and beer. Ugh.
“Great, Dad! Thanks a bunch!” Heath’s exuberance had me blinking and refocusing on him and not my mind babble. “Yeah, I’ll call you guys every day.” He paused while his dad said something else. “Oh, I almost forgot that. Okay, well, while Zo and the rest of the kids are getting ready, I’ll run home and grab my passport and some clothes. Tell Mom we’re only supposed to take one book bag of stuff each, though, so not to go all crazy on the packing. Okay, I’ll see you in a few! Bye!” Grinning like he was back in grade school and had just been given an extra carton of chocolate milk during snacktime, he hung up.
“That was slick,” Stevie Rae said.
“I’d forgotten all about that Spanish trip,” I said.
“I hadn’t. So it looks like I need to get home quick and grab my passport and stuff. I’ll meet ya at the airport. Don’t leave without me!” He kissed me quickly, grabbed his coat, and rushed out of the room like he wanted to escape before I could tell him once and for all, no matter what his clueless parents said, he was so
“You’re really lettin’ him go with y’all?” Stevie Rae said.
“Yeah,” I said apathetically. “I guess I am.”
“Well, I’m glad. Not to be mean or anything, but I think it’s a good idea because of the whole blood thing.”
“Z, he’s your Imprinted human. His blood is super-good for you. You’re going into a dangerous situation, with confronting Kalona and Neferet and the High Council, so you might need some super-good-for-you blood.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“Okay, Z. What the heck’s up?”
I blinked at her. “What do you mean?”
“I mean you’re acting like a zombie. So tell me about that ‘weird’ dream that woke you up.”
“I thought you were asleep.”
“That’s what I wanted you to think in case you and Heath wanted to do some makin’ out.”
“With you in the room? That’s just gross,” I said.
“True, but still I was tryin’ to be polite.”
“Jeesh,” I said. “Gross. I seriously wouldn’t do that.”
“And I’m seriously not gonna let you change the subject. The dream—remember? Tell me.”
I sighed. Stevie Rae was my best friend, and I really should talk about it. “It was about Kalona,” I blurted.
“He got in your dream even though you were sleepin’ with Heath?”
“No. He didn’t get in my dream,” I said truthfully, though evasively. “It was more like a vision than a dream.”
“A vision of what?”
“His past. Way back. Before he fell.”
“Fell? From where?”
I drew a deep breath and told her the truth. “From Nyx’s side. He used to be her Warrior.”
“Yes… No… I don’t know! It seemed real, but I don’t know for sure. I don’t know how I can ever know for sure.” Then my breath caught. “Oh, no.”
“In the memory I had of A-ya, she said something about Kalona not being meant to walk this world.” I gulped and clasped my hands together to stop them from shaking. “And she called him her Warrior.”
“Uh-oh. You mean like she knew he’d been Nyx’s Warrior before he fell?”
“Oh, Goddess, I don’t know.” But I did. In my heart I knew A-ya had been trying to comfort Kalona with familiarity. He’d been a warrior once; he would want to be a warrior again.
“Maybe you should talk to Lenobia about—” Stevie Rae began.
“No! Stevie Rae, promise me you won’t tell anyone. They already know I’ve had a memory of A-ya being with Kalona. Add that to Aphrodite’s visions, it would just freak them out and make everyone think I’m going to suddenly lose my mind and be with him again—and that’s just not going to happen.” I said it like I meant it, and I did. I didn’t care that it made my stomach feel sick. I couldn’t be with Kalona. Like I’d told him, it was impossible.
But I didn’t have to worry about Stevie Rae telling on me. She was nodding her head and looking at me with eyes filled with understanding. “You want to figure him out for yourself, don’t you?”
“Yeah. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it?”
“No,” she said firmly. “Sometimes things just aren’t anyone else’s business. And some things that seem totally impossible end up being different than we’d ever expected.”
“You really think so?”
“I hope so,” she said earnestly. It seemed Stevie Rae wanted to say something more, but was interrupted by the knock on the door and Aphrodite’s “Would you guys hurry the hell up? Everyone’s already eating and we have a jet to catch.”
“We’re ready,” Stevie Rae yelled, and then tossed my book bag to me. “I think you should follow what your gut is tellin’ you, just like Nyx has always said. Sure, you’ve messed up in the past. So have I. But both of us have chosen to be squarely on the side of our Goddess, and that’s what counts in the end.”
I nodded, suddenly finding it hard to speak.
Stevie Rae hugged me. “You’ll do the right thing. I know you will,” she said.
My laugh sounded more like a sob, and I said, “Yeah, but after how many mess-ups?”
She smiled at me. “Life’s about messing up. And I’m startin’ to think it wouldn’t be as exciting if we were perfect.”
“I could do with a little boring right now,” I said.
We were laughing when we walked out in the hall and joined an annoyed Aphrodite. I noticed her “book bag” was a Betsey Johnson carry-on, and that it was so full it was bulging at its fashionable seams.
“I think that’s cheating,” I said, pointing at her bag.
“It’s not cheating. It’s improvising.”
“Cute bag,” Stevie Rae said. “I heart me some Betsey Johnson.”
“You are way too country for Betsey,” Aphrodite said.
“Am not,” Stevie Rae said.
“Am too,” Aphrodite said, and countered with “Bumpkin exhibit A—those horrid jeans. Ropers? Seriously? I have two words for you: Up. Date.”
“Oh, no. You did not just talk about my Ropers…”
I let the two of them bicker as I followed them to the cafeteria. Actually, I hardly heard them. My mind was miles away on a rooft op in the middle of a dream.
The cafeteria was busy, but, bizarrely, too quiet as Aphrodite, Stevie Rae, and I joined the Twins, Jack, and Damien, who were already wolfing down bacon and eggs. As I expected, I was drawing a lot of
“Ignore them. They’re haters,” Aphrodite said.
“It’s so weird that Kalona’s still messin’ with their heads,” Stevie Rae said as we filled our plates and kept throwing glances over our shoulders at the mostly silent and sullen room.
“It’s their choice, too.” My mouth blurted before I could stop it.
“What do ya mean?” Stevie Rae asked.
I gulped some eggs and said, “I mean the kids,”—I paused and waved my fork at the rest of the room for emphasis—“the ones who are giving us the stank eye and being so insanely horrid, are choosing to be that way. Yeah, Kalona started it, but they’re choosing their own paths.”
Stevie Rae’s voice was soft with understanding, but no less insistent. “That could be true, Z, but you have to remember it’s happened because of Kalona—well, him along with Neferet.”
My eggs suddenly looked less tasty.
We were all squished around the booth, eating and trying to pretend like people weren’t killing us with their eyes, when Stark joined us. He looked tired, and when his gaze met mine, I recognized the sadness in his eyes. I’d seen it mirrored in Kalona’s eyes as he spoke of Nyx.
I smiled at him, wanting to wipe the worry from his face. “Hi,” I said softly.
“Hi,” he said.
Then we realized our table, as well as the entire room, was watching and listening to us. Stark cleared his throat, pulled up a chair, lowered his voice, and said, “Darius and Lenobia are already at the airport. I’m driving you guys in the Hummer.” He glanced around, and I saw some of the tightness in his face relax. “So, I’m guessing you sent Heath home?”
“To get his passport,” Stevie Rae proclaimed.
That, of course, caused a mini-uproar at our table. I sighed and waited for the storm to subside. When everyone finally shut up, I said, “Yes, Heath’s coming with us. The end.”
Aphrodite raised one blond brow. “Well, I suppose it does make sense to bring the bloodmobile with you. Even Arrow Boy over there with the mean face has to agree with that.”
“I said ‘the end’ because I’m not going to talk about it. And don’t call Heath a bloodmobile.”
“It’s really not polite,” Stevie Rae said.
“Bite me,” Aphrodite said, clearly without thinking, because the Twins automatically started to giggle.
“Stevie Rae isn’t going with us,” I broke into the Twins’ hilarity. “So that means when we circle, Aphrodite will be representing spirit.”
That shut the Twins up. Everyone stared at Stevie Rae.
“They might not be able to be saved,” Damien said solemnly.
“I know, but I’m going to give it another try.”
“Hey, do me a favor, will ya?” Aphrodite said. “Would you please
“I am not gettin’ killed,” Stevie Rae said.
“Promise you won’t go back there alone,” Jack said.
“That’s a promise you need to make,” Stark agreed.
I didn’t say anything. I was no longer so cocky about knowing the only right way to do things.
Fortunately, my silence wasn’t noticed because just then the red fledglings made their entrance, and the entire cafeteria went from gawking at us, to gawking and whispering at them.
“Better make sure they’re fine,” Stevie Rae said. She stood up and then smiled at us. “Y’all hurry and get stuff straight over there, so you can come back home over here.” She hugged me, whispering, “You’ll do the right thing.”
“You will, too,” I whispered back.
Then she moved away from me and I watched her take charge of the red fledglings (who waved at us as they got into line). Stevie Rae was so normal acting, talking to her kids like they hadn’t just stepped into the cafeteria for the first time since each of them had died, that her group instantly started to relax, ignoring the stares and whispers.
“She’s a good leader,” I said, thinking out loud.
“I hope that doesn’t get her into trouble,” Aphrodite said. I looked from Stevie Rae to her and she shrugged. “Some people—especially evil, undead-dead people—can’t be led.”
“She’ll do the right thing.” I repeated Stevie Rae’s words.
“Yeah, but will they?” Aphrodite said.
I didn’t have a comeback for that, so I picked at my eggs instead.
“Are you guys about ready?” Stark finally said.
“I am,” I said.
Everyone else nodded, and we grabbed our bags and headed to the door. Stark and I brought up the rear.
Erik’s voice stopped me. Stark stayed with me, his eyes sharp on my ex-boyfriend.
“Hi, Erik,” I said guardedly.
“Good luck,” he said.
“Thanks.” I was pleasantly surprised at his neutral expression and lack of Venus suckerfished to his side. “Are you staying at the school and teaching drama again?”
“Yeah, but just until they get a new professor. So if I’m not here when you get back, I just wanted you to know, that, um”—he looked from Stark to me, and then finished with—“that I said good luck.”
“Oh, okay. Well, thanks again.”
He nodded and walked quickly out of the cafeteria ahead of us, presumably going up to the professors’ dining room.
“Huh. That was kinda weird, but nice of him,” I said.
“He acts too much,” Stark said, holding the door open for me.
“Yeah, I get that, but I’m still glad he said something nice before we left. I hate the awkward ex-boyfriend stuff.”
“Yet another reason to be glad I’m not technically your boyfriend,” Stark said.
The rest of the group was several yards ahead of us, so we had an instant of privacy. I was just trying to figure out whether Stark was being borderline hateful in his “not your boyfriend” comment or not when he suddenly asked, “Was everything okay last night? You woke me up once.”
“Everything was fine.”
He hesitated and then said, “You didn’t bite Heath again.”
It wasn’t a question, but I answered anyway, though my voice sounded sharper than I’d intended. “No. I was feeling fine, so I didn’t need to.”
“I’ll understand if you do, though,” he said.
“Can we not talk about this right now?”
“Yeah, fine.” We walked on a few feet and were almost to the parking lot, so he slowed down, giving us another moment of privacy. “Are you mad at me?” he asked.
“Why would I be mad at you?”
He lifted his shoulders. “Well, first there’s Aphrodite’s visions. She sees you in trouble. Serious trouble. But she either sees me and I do nothing, or she doesn’t see me at all. And now Heath’s coming with us to Italy…” His words just trailed off, leaving him looking frustrated.
“Stark, Aphrodite’s visions can be changed. We’ve done it several times. Once for me personally. We’ll change the drowning one, too. Actually,
“Even though I have an issue with going outside in the sunlight?”
I suddenly understood one of the reasons that this threat to me was bothering him so badly—he felt like he might not be able to be there for me when I needed him. “You’ll figure out how to be sure I’m safe, even if you can’t be with me physically.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“With all my heart,” I said honestly. “There is no other vampyre I would ever want as my Warrior. I trust you. Always.”
Stark looked like about a zillion pounds had been lifted off his back. “It’s good to hear you say that.”
I stopped and faced him. “I would have told you that before, but I thought you already knew it.”
“I guess I did. In here.” Stark touched the spot over his heart. “But my ears needed to hear it.”
I stepped into his arms and pressed my face against his neck. “I trust you. Always,” I repeated.
“Thank you, my lady,” he whispered as his strong arms held me close.
I stepped back and smiled at him. Suddenly Kalona seemed very distant as Stark filled up my here and now. “We’ll figure out all this stuff, and through it all we’ll be together—a Warrior and his lady.”
“That’s what I want,” he said firmly. “And to hell with everything else.”
“Yep. To hell with everyone and everything else.” I refused to think about Kalona. He was a maybe—a big, scary, confusing maybe. Stark was a for-sure. I took his hand and, pulling him with me… always with me… toward the Hummer, said, “Come on, Warrior, let’s go to Italy.”