I spent most of Wednesday evening trying to figure out what Jarod and I could get Aaliyah for her birthday present while helping Corey Nelson build a lawn pond that his wife really wanted. The lawn pond was looking pretty good by nightfall, but I wasn’t remotely close to knowing what to get Aaliyah. My dreams didn’t help me decide on anything either, being too filled with other distractions. They did, however, make me wonder if I truly had too many girls in my life at the moment. When I woke, I wanted nothing but a cold shower. The smell of omelettes and bacon put my morning right when I stepped out of the restroom, at least until I realized that I should tell my parents I decided against going to college for the time being. Walking into the kitchen, I had a slight sense of foreboding, certain that father wouldn’t take well to the idea if I put it plainly. I didn’t honestly believe mother would be too keen about the idea either, so I made sure to dish up my plate and to start eating before I even considered talking beyond saying, “Good morning.” Before I was halfway through my omelette, mother just had to ask “Did you get any of those college applications done last night? I know you came home late, but a good education is important, dear.” Life just couldn’t give me even a tiny break in this.
“Well,” I began, “I know neither of you will much care for this idea, but I’ve decided not to go to college just yet. My business is going far better than any of us expected, I now have two people working under me, since I hired Jarod just yesterday to be a second best friend. I don’t know how long I can keep this business running, but I intend to see it through.” Surprisingly, father just nodded and looked over to mother, who was frowning. “James, dear. Your father and I thought you might feel this way. We’re very proud of you. Starting a new business is difficult and can run into all sorts of unexpected problems. But.. If you really feel this is right for you, which I’m not really sure… You really should go to college, dear, so you have some sort of backup plan. It’s not like your business will go anywhere without you.” I interrupted mother and said, “That’s the problem. My business won’t go anywhere if I stop now, but if I give it my full attention, instead of running myself ragged between school and the business as I have been, I should be able to make something wonderful of it.” Father then told me “I don’t disagree with you, son, but what your mother was trying to say is that you’ll need to fully support yourself if you’re determined to do this. We’ll expect you to move out by the end of June. You’ll also need to start paying for your cell phone, insurance, and everything else.”
My parents continued talking with me for a while about how much everything would cost. I hadn’t really considered how many expenses they always covered for me, but they couldn’t sway me. Best Friend For Hire was either going to make me or break me. I smiled as I drove over to Jarod’s and thought about having an apartment to myself. Regina was still busy with end of the year stuff, so I had volunteered to give Jarod a ride. Mrs. Davis told me that Jarod was still in his room “playing on that strange toy of his” when she let me inside. After knocking and opening the door to his room, I had to do a doubletake of where I was standing. No longer did Jarod’s room appear to have been the testing site of a bomb. Instead, there was a large open area, and things were carefully packed away. “What happened in here?” I asked. I couldn’t really tell whether Jarod was looking at me or not with him wearing his tablet’s glasses. “Oh, I ended up cleaning things up when I discovered that Aaliyah had stuck a training course on this thing for that martial arts style she’s been teaching me. I like it, so I’m trying to get better.” he explained with a shrug. “Ok. I can understand that. I just can’t believe martial arts was the key to a clean room for you. I’m getting kicked out of my house, by the way.” Jarod’s mouth dropped open in a satisfying way as I motioned for him to follow me to the car.
I spent the entire way to school talking with him about apartments and was surprised to find that he wasn’t interested in living with me. “Yeah… sorry, man. I just can’t see myself being the greatest roommate and don’t really want to try covering everything on my own. I’m going to put off mentioning anything to my parents, so they don’t get any ideas, not that they would… well, I don’t think they would.” I smiled and assured him that his parents would probably let him stay there until he needed a cane to get around, which got him protesting against staying there that long. “I wonder if the twins will give me cooking lessons.” I commented. He shrugged and said, “Maybe, but it’ll cost you from them. Why not just ask Aaliyah?” I replied “I’m sure she’d teach me, but I feel like I owe her too much already between the car and all of the things she does as my secretary which seem overboard. Any idea what we should get her as a present yet?” He shook his head and told me “No clue at all, but I’ve got to get her something good, considering this tablet. I mean.. It’s amazing!” I smiled and said, “You know that was from me as well, right?” He rolled his eyes. “Yeah. I’m sure you worked hard coming up with it when you had no clue what you gave me till I opened it.” he said with dripping sarcasm. We even asked Mila for suggestions, but she wasn’t “authorized to access files on the little princess’s preferences”, which left us still clueless when we arrived at school.
Regina wasn’t even in class today, so I didn’t get a chance to tell her about my upcoming move. From what Laura said when I caught her in the hall, Regina was busy dictating details of the graduation ceremony and preparing things for the end of year assembly. When the time came around for the assembly, she was all smiles as she gave a speech, wishing us all the best in our endeavors. During the award ceremonies, I felt odd not joining the track team up on stage, especially since something seemed to be up between Nathan and Luke. They looked upset with one another for some reason. I couldn’t believe the number of people who came and gave me a hug after the ceremony was over. Yes, many of the seniors were getting such treatment, but I was certain that half these girls had never even talked with me before. I did feel surprisingly choked up talking with my classmates. I might see some of them over the summer, but who knows what universities they’d be attending thereafter. Even the ones whom I didn’t know very well were at least familiar faces to me. Part of me wanted to try warning them all of the dangers out in the world, but I knew no one would take me seriously, no one except Jarod and Regina at least. Instead, I told myself that I would try to protect whomever I could to the best of my ability. With Ai, Mai, and Emma helping Regina, Jarod, and I, we might very well save quite a few of the ones that stayed near home.
Coach Cooper came up to me before I managed to slip out and handed me his keys, saying, “Hey, James. I’ve been trying to catch you for a week now. You always were quick though. Still am sorry I couldn’t talk you into staying on the team. Anyway, you left some stuff in your locker. Just give me the keys back after you lock up.” He gave me a pat on the back and walked off. I probably did leave my spare shoes in the locker. Possibly some shorts. I really needed to get my head together sometime soon, especially if I was going to manage living on my own. I took off to the track building, unlocked the door and paused. There was a loud thump as if something had hit a locker hard. I carefully shut the door behind me, not wanting to make any noise. Then I crept slowly down the stairs and listened for any sounds. I could hear someone moving around, obviously angry with how lockers were getting hit repeatedly. I grabbed my ears in pain as a tremendously loud roar filled the room, echoing off the walls. I forced myself to concentrate through the pain and drew in as much magic as I could. There was an abundance up ahead, and I pulled it all into a spell meant to throw someone backward. I nearly lost it when I found blood, and then saw Nathan’s shredded body on the ground. Standing over him was a vaguely humanoid shape with an enormous, fur-covered head. He stared at me, teeth barred. His clothing was torn over his monstrous frame.
Then the monster changed before my eyes, his form shrinking into Luke. “James… I didn’t want this to happen. You’ve gotta believe me. He told me that his parents were kicking me out. I had just moved in and thought they liked me. Apparently they had found blood on my shoes and were worried. I had tried to get Nathan to side with me, but he wouldn’t. I had asked if he’d seen anything, and he wouldn’t answer me. He just wouldn’t answer me. I asked him down here to talk, but I just lost it… seriously… I’d never hurt Nathan.” I strained to keep my spell ready, but I was barely keeping my lunch down. What should I do? “TALK TO ME!” he screamed. Then he was reaching for me, and I panicked. I unleashed my spell on him. I lost my lunch after hearing the sickening crack of his body hitting the wall. When my stomach was empty, I dropped to the ground. I saw that the wall was ruined where Luke had struck; cement had shattered by the force of the spell. Luke was bleeding on the ground. I didn’t know what to do, so I called the twins and quickly explained what happened. They told me I should make sure Luke was dead, but I knelt to check on Nathan first. There was no pulse. No breath. Luke wasn’t moving either. Blood. Blood was everywhere. Mai was telling me they were on their way, but I needed to focus. I did as she instructed and started moving the blood to the drain after a couple tries duplicating the blood magic she had shown me. Luke had left more residual energy when he changed to human. I nearly lost my lunch again when I had accidentally made the blood spread on the ground.
When I came back from the shower to get more blood, Luke and Nathan were both gone. I made a spell to seek out more blood, and found a trail going out to the back door. After peeking out, I shut it and locked it. Then I set to work cleaning up the rest of the blood, nearly jumping out of my skin when a knock came at the front. “Who is it?” I asked, hoping I wouldn’t have to defend myself again so soon. Regina’s voice called back. She hugged me tight when I opened the door. “Ai called me after you apparently hung up on them. I’m so sorry, James. Are they still down there?” I shook my head, barely registering the worry that crossed her face. “I’m glad you’re alright.” She took me by the hand and walked back down to the lockers. Then she helped me clean up the little blood that remained. “Luke killed Nathan, and I thought I had killed Luke. Look at that wall, Regina. He lived through that.” She nodded, looking determined. “We’ll find him, James.” I was surprised by the ferocity in her voice. After she asked why I had even been here, I grabbed my spare shoes and clothes. Then we went and gave Coach Cooper back his keys. By the time the twins arrived, Regina and I were sitting in Mila and talking. Ai went to follow the trail, saying she just wanted to know where Luke was heading, while Mai stayed back and talked with us. I had never been so disturbed in all my life, even when I had been attacked by werewolves. Was there really a place for me in such a crazy world? If so, could I survive it?