Aidan watches the sugar cube dissolve in dark tea as she stirs. She can’t think of anything to say, so she is silent in the teachers’ lounge with Chloe bustling around her. Finally, the woman sits across from her and takes her hand.
Aidan expects questions. She expects an interrogation as to why she ran away from a class with tears in her eyes. But Chloe is not a teacher or a member of the staff. She is a volunteer at the school and can buck a few rules about how to handle the rampaging emotions of high school students.
So she’d brought Aidan to the off-limits teachers’ lounge, pushed out a few lounging teachers and made tea. Now she sits across from the girl composing herself, holds her hand and says nothing.
“Sorry I ran into you,” Aidan manages.
Chloe says nothing.
“I’m ok now.”
“Are you sure?”
Aidan closes her eyes as if they held all of her and by closing them, she can keep Chloe out.
Behind her lids, she sees one picture, one picture dominant above all the things Mr. Morgan shoved in her head: her own face. She sees her own face, older, framed by long black hair with a streak of grey running the length of it, starting at the left temple. Her own soft grey eyes edged by thick black lashes hover in a pale, hollow face. Laugh lines surround those eyes and full lips.
The specific emotion that matches the memory of that face is the only one that sticks with the picture. Loss, such an extreme sense of loss chisels a hole in Aidan’s heart and leaves a raw, bleeding spot.
“I am ok,” she says more for her own benefit than the woman sitting across from her holding her hand.
“Fine, then,” Chloe releases her hand. She stands, stepping to the counter to tidy up the tea mess she’d made. She leans against the counter, her own cup heating her palms. “How’s the play coming?”
“Fine. Did they find you?”
“Those guys who were looking for you last weekend. I never got the chance to ask.”
“Yup,” Chloe smiles. “They found me. You gonna tell me what’s your problem today?”
“Nope.” Aidan sips her tea, smiles into her cup as she notices her hands still shaking. “Those guys, Chloe, who were they?”
“Friends of mine.”
“Really? They didn’t seem to even know where in the school you volunteer. They said…they said something strange when I brought them into the school.”
(How quickly her mind turns to something else. How irritating right now.)
Chloe returns to her seat across from Aidan and takes her hand again. “I’m leaving for a little while. I hope to be back before the play, but until then, you need a place to go, you hit McGuffin’s. Jim will put you up.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I know your dad travels a lot. I know what it feels like to bounce around an empty house and Celia can’t stay over every night. Neither do you want to stay under your aunt’s watchful eye. Let’s just say I know the teenagers who live in this town. Sometimes all you need is a hideout.”
Aidan looks Chloe. Her glasses hide the depths in her eyes. Aidan can’t read her. Chloe’s aura is faint in the incandescent lighting. Her long braid hangs over one shoulder, a leather strap binding it at the bottom.
“Thank you, Chloe.”
“No problem. Now go, get off the property before the roads are blocked by the masses who need a bit of spirit.”
Aidan grins, head still cloudy from the images put in her head. She has to leave, has to put distance between herself and Victor Morgan. She has to put distance between herself and the school. She has to find some place of refuge, and for the first time in forever does not seek solace with her best friend, Celia.
Just thinking of her lets her in.
Want me to come by after the game tonight?
For a long minute there is silence.
I’ll pick you up tomorrow night.
Ok. See you then.
Aidan hands it to Celia. She knows when to keep her distance. She knows when to let Aidan alone, because she is right, sooner or later, Aidan will come to her and they will work it out together.
For now, Aidan wants to be alone.
She cuts off the analytical part of her brain, lets her body work on autopilot and finds herself walking the few blocks between her house and the strip, curling up in one of the chairs in the corner of coffee house, staring into nothing, thinking about nothing.
The images return. They remain disjointed, without an appropriate emotion. She watches a film without investing in the characters, a film without a beginning, middle and end, a film without direction. She watches players move across the screen, actors mouthing words, some of which she does not understand.
Weird thing. The more she plays them in her head, the more even foreign languages start making sense to her.
(Ok, I know it’s hard shoving tons of information on an unsuspecting hero. I know the history and that sometimes it backfires. I also know that more often it works. Heroes are special. They are made different from the rest of us. They are made for the drama. They are made with strength to weather any storm. I know Aidan. I know she is stronger than even the ordinary hero. I know…well, what I know fills much more than a single book on one character in the play that is our world.
I know that Aidan’s second trial is coming faster than I can put her through her first. And, I know there are only two people who can help her walk the beginning of the path. Unfortunately, I will be leaving soon. I cannot match my physical presence to the time she needs me.
Her Immortal, however, is here to help, maybe more than I. She has to know her Immortal first. She has to trust first. This is her first trial.)
He gently removes the cold mug from her hands. She doesn’t notice until he replaces it with a warm to-go cup.
She looks up.
Corey pulls her to her feet and waits for the feeling to return to her legs.
“What are you doing here?” she asks.
“Taking you home.”
“Celia pulled me aside at the game. She told me about class this afternoon and that you didn’t want her to come by tonight. She thought…well, she thought I could help with whatever it is that is bothering you.” He guides her to the door.
She follows his lead and steps out onto the strip, the strip covered in darkness, lit only by the tiny circles of street lights and the few shops still open.
Down the street, beneath a streetlight, a girl sits on a bench.
The jukebox blaring in McGuffin’s pulls Aidan’s attention to the bar.
She stares at it as they walk closer. She can hear the rumble of people inside. She looks to the dark windows above the bar. Maybe she will take Chloe up on the hideaway offer. People seem to be able to find her rather easy.
“Good,” he says. “Then all I have to do is walk you home.”
“Yup. That’s all you have to do.”