The first few weeks of college were harder than I ever expected but soon I got into the swing of things. I learned how to take notes, some decent ways to study, and I did my best not to stay up the nights before morning classes… though I rarely got to sleep on time. Noah and I were always up till at the very least midnight, and more often than that more like two. I made some ‘friends’ in my classes, though they were more like acquaintances. I soon realized the downside of choosing phys ed as my major included a lot of jocks in my classes. Football, basketball, soccer, swimming, track, and more. None of them I met were interested in sim fu so of course in those classes I became a bit of a loner. But my other classes went all right and I met some pretty cool people.
English Literature, while the most boring education wise was the most fun in general since Lumie, Noah, and Lumie’s roommate–Heidi–all had the same class. It met in the early afternoons on Tuesdays and Thursdays so the four of us took to getting lunch together before heading to our class.
In October, Noah and I threw our party. We spent a long time preparing for it. We put out flyers, talked about it to all our classmates, loads of girls… and then got a ton of food on the day of the party. Lots of junk food and pizza and pop and of course beer. Noah came through with his promise of a keg and everything seemed perfect. All we had to was wait.
An hour after the party had been set to start someone finally arrived. Noah and I glanced at each other then excitedly made for the door. Some guy neither of us knew stood there, holding one of our flyers.
“Big party tonight?” he asked then glanced past us at the empty room. “Orrr not…”
“Naw man, it’s a party,” Noah said nervously. “Nobody’s shown up yet but…”
The guy shook his head, gave a snort, and shoved the flyer at me. “Screw this. A broken light bulb is hotter than this flop!” With this he turned and left, his laughter echoing through the night.
“Yeah well SCREW YOU!” I shouted, balling up the paper.
“What a dumbass. Who needs a bunch of idiots, we can party without them,” Noah muttered, folding his arms and glaring at the guy’s car driving off.
So Noah, Max, and I gathered as much food as we could eat and turned the music up as loud as we dared. Max, who had been planning on hiding out during the party, happily joined us when he discovered it’d just be the three of us. Though he did complain about the fact the pizza didn’t have any anchovies on it.
Noah and I took turns doing keg stands and guzzling down as much beer as we could until it got to the point we were dropping each other more often than not. Finally we just ended up on the floor, first laughing about the fact we couldn’t stand up straight and then crying over how horrible the ‘party’ turned out.
“I ‘on… ion’t under…sand…” Noah moaned as we held each other up for support, trying to get to the couch. “I–I’m a… I’m a coool guy, yyeah?”
“Nonono yeah you toootally are,” I said, my words not sounding right. My eyes weren’t seeing right, either. Things were a bit blurry and the world seemed like it was tilt-a-whirling around around. “You’re like…onne, one of–of the goolest cuys… cool…guys I’ve eve… ever met in… life.”
“Yeah you are tooo!” he wailed as he fell onto the couch, me soon following. “I fink we’re juss too… cool.”
“Yeaaah,” I giggled. “Be’er’en that… uhhh… hey… you wannna know a cool dude? My brooo! Yeah, he’s cool. He’s like… a king… hol’ on.” I got up, stumbling to where I left my phone and I punched at the screen till Vilkas’s name showed up for calling. “Ehehe hol’ on yeah… ohhhh Vilkish?” I said when he answered. “HEY! BROOOO!”
“Zaid, it’s one in the morning and–are you slurring…? Did… did you just drunk dial me?” my brother demanded sleepily.
I began giggling more. “I’sh not… drunk… like… maybe little bit. Yeah. Kinda. So uh, guesh what? Noah an’ I threw a party and like… nooobody came…”
“Oh Watcher, Zaid, go drink some water or something,” Vilkas said. “You sound completely wasted. Have you eaten?”
I stuck my lower lip out. “We tolaty ate!” I paused, realizing what I said. “Tolaty?” I asked, glancing at Noah who fell over laughing. I began laughing too. “Tollaaattyyyy!”
“Is like, like uhh, a tolll on tea!” Noah exclaimed, snorting and laughing and clutching his sides. I nearly dropped the phone from laughing so much.
“Is Max drunk too?”
“Noooo he olly ate, no drinking said no. I did… hey. Hey Vilkish. I did… a keg… sand… stand…!” I began laughing even more at that. “I fell!” I added with more laughter. Noah practically couldn’t breathe.
“Let me talk to Max,” Vilkas sighed.
“EEEY! MAX! MAXerrnooo! Maxie boooy!” I stumbled to the other stairs as Max had retreated to his room when we started drinking. “Maxxxiiie! Phan!!… Phan? Phone!” I then did drop the phone from laughing and wound up on the floor next to Noah, barely conscious of Max coming downstairs and picking the phone up.
“Oh, hey stinky. Yeah. Uh-huh. Yeah, they’re both completely shnockered.”
“Shnoocnerd,” I whispered and Noah and I laughed even more.
“Uh-huh. Yeah, I will. I promise. Okay. Bye stinky.”
Whatever my brother said to Max it didn’t have to do with us since Max just gave us unhappy looks before going into the kitchen. I rolled over on the floor and wound up rolling over Noah who had fallen off the couch. We both laughed some more about this and then we fell back into crying about what failures we were. We cried about the party, we cried about our so-called friends, and we cried about the lack of dating lives. And then we bemoaned about everything a bit more until everything went black.
“Hangovers… suck…” I bent my head, moaning into the cup of coffee Max had made for me along with a pile of tuna on a plate. I pushed the plate across the table. “I don’t want it… you can have it. Oh Watcher. There is someone screaming in the other room.”
“Nope, that’s Noah’s phone going off,” Max said, downing the tuna before I could blink. “Zaidy-boy, why did you get so drunk last night?”
“Why not?” I asked, slurping the dark liquid and wincing at the strength. “Whazza coffee grounds to water ratio here, buddy?”
“Iunno.” Max shrugged and licked the plate clean. “Don’t get drunk again, a’right? I don’t like it.”
“Please, you grew up in a world where everyone drank alcohol all the time and nothing else WOULD YOU SHUT THE PHONE OFF DAMN IT NOAH!” I let out another sound then folded my arms on the table and rested my head. “Did I call Villy last night? What did I even talk about to him… or Noah…? Did I mention the supernatural thing?”
“Yep to calling Villy, no to the other but shhhhh.” Max reached over and stroked the back of my head. “Shhhhh.”
“Wha–” I started then tilted my head, watching Noah stumble in the room. “Your phone screamed. It hurt.”
“Try being two feet away from it,” he growled. “Do I smell tuna?”
“My tuna!” Max cried out causing both me and Noah to flinch at the loudness. “My tuna. You can have coffee though.”
“It’s sludge-like,” I said as Noah went to grab a mug. “No one showed up did they.”
“Nope,” Noah said in a very bitter tone.
I frowned. “Are we that sucky?”
“Yep. Watcher, this is coffee? Tastes like straight up grounds, no water. You make it?” He moved to sit next to me, drinking the coffee despite the taste. “You know what we should invent? Anti-hangover medicine. A yummy drink that fixes this awful feeling.”
“Most my awful feeling is depression.” I finished off my coffee and began debating getting more. “Seriously, no one showed up. Not even Lumes.” Though that didn’t surprise me since I knew she most likely wouldn’t have come. She had a major test coming up and wanted to study instead of party. I should have just done the same.
>Yeah, you should have,< Lumie sent to me and I whimpered, covering my ears, not wanting my sister to invade my aching head. >I can’t believe how drunk you guys got, you dumbass.<
>Please shut up, put the barriers up, my head hurts.<
>Eat some breakfast. Not tuna. Carbs or something. Bread–toast. Some greasy food might help too. Eggs. Bacon. Eat, it will help. Bye-bye.< She put up the barriers and I breathed out in the slight relief, realizing only then Noah had been talking too and expected some sort of answer.
“Let’s go out to eat,” I suggested, pushing myself to my feet. “Big breakfast. Lots of food.”
“Your treat?” Noah asked hopefully.
I laughed, reaching for my car keys. “In your dreams, pal, you pay for your own food. Max, you wanna come with?” Max looked at us rather sadly but nodded and trailed along behind us as we headed to the car, giving rather patronizing sighs as we went.
The rest of the semester went by pretty badly. Finding out that my friends weren’t exactly my friends I began to avoid pretty much everyone but Lumes, Heidi, Noah, and Max. I tried to focus on school but I didn’t do so well and my grades weren’t exactly outstanding. Staying up late playing video games with Noah was much more fun than studying. More mornings than most found me on the couch with Noah asleep on the other side and Max curled up in my lap.
Finals hit like a storm and I scrambled around trying to get all my projects finished. Unfortunately I didn’t do so well and I went home with Cs across the board and a failed grade in Algebra, meaning I had to repeat. Lumie, of course, got As and Bs. I knew she wasn’t trying to show off but as she radiated pride I couldn’t help but feel jealous.
The winter break sped by because I didn’t want it to end–I did not want to go back to college but of course back we went and the spring semester went by almost as crappy as the autumn one had gone though I managed to snag a few dates. Noah and I tried a few parties but we didn’t really enjoy them. We wanted to throw more of our own but knew they’d just be flops like before so we saved money by not throwing bashes and instead getting stuff for just the two of us… getting drunk a lot more often than Max approved of.
“Stop looking at me like that,” I complained one morning after my hangover finally disappeared. “Look, most the kids on campus get drunk. I don’t need my bodyguard’s disapproval when I do.”
“Bodyguard?” Max asked, brow wrinkling. I just waved my hand in dismissal. “Whoa, wait, bodyguard? Is that–is that all I am? To you? Zaidy? A bodyguard?”
“No. No, sorry, Max, I–I didn’t mean it like that. I’m just tired.” I rubbed my eyes and hoped that my apology would be enough but Max kept frowning. “I’m sorry. You’re more than my bodyguard. You’re my friend, Max. Maxy-boy.” I punched his arm but his frown remained. I sighed. “I’m sorry.”
He stared dolefully at me for several seconds before his frown turned into a smile, albeit a small one. Then he leaned forward and licked my cheek. A year ago I would have disgustingly wiped it off but now I didn’t care. Max was just a licky type of cat. “It’s okay, Zaidy-boy, I know you’re not feeling well. Getting drunk off your ass will do that. You should cut back on the booze, though. Please? We should do more training sessions. We haven’t been doing much of those lately.”
I wanted to tell him that I had too much to do but his eyes were full of hope so I just couldn’t say no. “All right, we’ll go back to the three times a week thing.”
“Good, because I don’t want you getting rusty when–when things… you know… go back to how they were before,” Max said and I felt a shiver of dread down my spine at those words. How they were before, I thought, stomach churning. Nobody had tried to attack me for months. Nothing, since the name change and move. No nasty reminders that I wasn’t normal. No attempts to kill me. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” I lied in response to Max’s question. “Just tired.” I grabbed one of the muffins I had left in my room for the morning and headed downstairs, picking at the muffin and leaving a trail. A trail… would someone pick up the crumbs and follow me here? Things had been pretty chill for me (okay maybe not completely chill since college pumped me full of stress and anxiety) and as the weeks wore on I just felt more and more… calm, maybe? In regards to the problems I had been facing before? My focus had been on Noah, video games, and classes instead of the fact I once spent every waking moment petrified that I might be killed any moment. I needed to stay on top of training. My fighting skills couldn’t get rusty for when my freedom came to an end and I had to return to fighting for my life.
Keeva’s hand left a bright red mark across my cheek. I rubbed the spot, trying not to scowl at her as she whirled on her cheap heels and stormed off. I skulked back to Noah as he tried not very hard to suppress his laughter. He grinned when I finally reached him. “I take it she said no,” he said before laughing more.
“Shut the hell up,” I growled, elbowing him, trying not to feel bitter about being rejected so painfully. “Not like you’ve had any dates in a while. Least I didn’t get headbutted.”
“Shut the f–” He stopped as his phone went off, quickly retrieving it from his pocket. He glanced at the message and the smile returned to his face. “Eyyy, I got the job!”
“Whoa! Congrats, dude!” I gave him a high five then nodded approvingly at the e-mail displayed across the screen of his smartphone. “Guess we’ll both be staying for the summer, then.”
Our freshman year finals were coming up and after that apparently we’d both be staying in town for summer jobs. I knew both my dads were upset while Lumie made it clear how livid she felt about the whole thing but really, I liked the town and I wanted to take a summer course–now I could. I wanted to take an algebra course, to make up for the one I should have been taking this past semester but didn’t since I had to retake the part one course. I felt confident that I’d pass part one this time around and would take part two through the summer so I wouldn’t lose more time on stupid math.
Plus I knew some girls that lived in town and I sorta kinda wanted to try and get Kinsley Ayers to go out with me. I had been gunning for her since the spring semester started but she always had a flock of dumb jocks around her. So instead I had dated some other girls, or tried to date some other girls.
Whitney went out with me twice before dumping me for some rich prep. Pfft. Who needed someone like her anyway?
Aria… well, what we went on weren’t really dates so much as heavy makeout sessions in the back of my car garnering me pretty much everything except a home run when it came to sexual encounters. But our interest in one another waned before we could do more, and we split off after a couple weeks.
Then came Zoe. A one night stand that left me more than grateful for the college experimentation stage and my sister permanently pissed at me for not being able to keep up my side of the barriers during sex. Something apparently I’d have to learn.
Finally Keeva, a really sweet girl I took out once and had hoped to take out again until she found out my slight crush on Kinsley Ayers. Which left me with a sore cheek and sore feelings since I really liked Keeva and my crush on Kinsley would never amount to anything (something I knew deep down inside). All right so the slap might have had more to do with the fact I accidentally mentioned how how Kinsley looked. I deserved the slap.
“What about Max, is he for sure staying too?” Noah asked, startling me out of my thoughts.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, he’s staying,” I replied absentmindedly. The two of them sorta got along though not greatly. Noah liked Max more than Max liked Noah. Sometimes Max seemed okay with Noah but more often than not he’d grumble about my friend in private. I still felt certain it had to do with jealousy since Max grumbled even louder about all the girls I dated and had nearly scratched up Zoe’s legs (as a cat) when I brought her to the house. He told me after that he didn’t like her perfume but…
“He’s weird sometimes,” Noah said, once again breaking into my thoughts. “But pretty cool. I don’t think he likes me though.”
“Nah, he’s just… aloof.”
“Like the cat,” Noah laughed and I gave forced chuckles too, just grateful that my friend hadn’t discovered that the roommate and the cat were one and the same.
Finals were awful but at least this time my grades were all Cs with one B! When Lumie got all As I had the feeling our dads would be all proud of her and ignore my B but when I visited home before my job started they both gave me hugs and told me how proud they were of my grade so I didn’t feel like an ignored loser for not being as good as my siblings. I knew out of all of us I had the worst grades overall but my dads didn’t seem disappointed at all that I didn’t get amazing grades at least.
“How’ve things been here?” I asked the second day of being home. “Quiet?”
“Not a supernatural peep on the home front,” Dad said, leaning back in his seat. “I’ve been doing all my work from the computer and video chatting, except once when I had to go in for an emergency at work… but nothing seemed to come of it regarding you.”
“I like this town,” Pa said cheerfully, sitting up perkily in his seat and swinging his legs. “People seem a lot friendlier than I thought they’d be. Course I guess that makes sense since the only Hollow folk I met before were parents of kids on the swimming team and they all were… super intense.” Pa’s nose crinkled a bit at that, remembering the meets he went to when Gladdy attended high school.
Dad reached over and patted Pa’s arm. “We’ve had a pretty decent year. Some adjusting, especially on my behalf…”
Pa smiled. “Your dad isn’t used to working from home. He’s gotten antsy. So we’ve been going out a lot and go out bowling every Friday night!”
“Bowling?” I snickered as Dad scowled. “Wow, Dad. Never thought of you as a bowler. Did you get your own balls?”
“Zaid!” Dad snapped angrily while I laughed hard, clutching my belly. “Chance has actually gotten fairly decent and has stopped falling every time he–er, sends the ball down the lane.” I wasn’t sure what my father had almost said, probably something that could sound sexual judging by the change in his tone at the last few words.
“I don’t even need the bump thingies anymore!” Pa said proudly. “And your dad gets… er… strikes. Right?” He looked at Dad who nodded. “Right. I kept calling them goals when we first started.”
We talked about bowling some more then the subject shifted first to my dating life (which I lied about) and then to Lumie. They both seemed rather worried about her and I realized I hadn’t spent as much time with her as I probably should have, especially as they both mentioned how unhappy Lumie seemed in the dorms. “Do you think she could move in with you in the autumn?” Dad asked.
I stared at him then blinked, slowly shaking my head. “There’s just not enough room. All the bedrooms are taken–“
“Couldn’t Max share with you?” Pa inquired. “Or will Noah be staying?”
“Noah is staying,” I said quickly. “I… I guess Max and I could share if Lumie doesn’t mind the smallest room…”
>I wouldn’t mind at all!< she interrupted from her room. >I didn’t want to ask you but I really wanted to… you guys wouldn’t mind?<
>Lumes, you’ll be sharing with three dudes.<
>No, one dude, a cat, and my brother,< she corrected. >I don’t mind though. Noah doesn’t like, like me or anything does he?<
>Nope, don’t worry. Besides I got a text from him last night, he might have a girlfriend anyway. Okay, I’ll talk to Noah and to Max to… see about… you taking his room.< Then because my dads were watching me curiously, I said out loud, “I talked with her just now and yeah, she can move in as long as Noah doesn’t mind. Or Max.” I grabbed a cookie and nibbled lightly at the treat, knowing perfectly well Max wouldn’t care since he slept with me pretty much every night anyway.
“Has there been any response?”
A sharp hiss. “Work harder. Find him. He’s been missing a year and a half, since the point he would have gone to college. Look into colleges.”
“We’ve been looking but–“
“No buts! Find him! He can’t hide from us forever. We will find him. And I will have him.”
Clack, clack, clack… high-heeled shoes striking the floor loudly as she walked down a dark, empty corridor. Magic-users left behind to continue working on their hard task of hunting the enemy down. Hunting Zaid Danevbie-Greyson down, so they could bring him to their mistress. Of course none of them knew their mistress worked for someone else. That they all worked for someone else. They just assumed she was the top of the ladder.
She did have full power, in charge of everything on the front. Only she knew about the other person. Her… ‘boss’ so to speak. The one who truly wanted Zaid. The one she’d move heaven and earth to please. The one she intended to move heaven and earth to please, but she had to find the brat first.
She paused, biting down on her bottom lip with perfect teeth. It had been several weeks since she spoke to them. Perhaps the time had come to pump for more information. Of course, she knew all the correspondence that happened but she swore that something was going on and she had to know if…
Making a decision, she turned around and went down the other way until she reached an elevator. Inside she had to use a special key to reach the lowest level. The doors opened and she stepped out into a nearly pitch black hallway. She flicked a light on and went to the one door at the end of the long hall. She swiped a card and punched in the key code before putting a heavy key into a lock to finish the unlocking process. She stepped inside, blinking at the bright lights. It was always too bright in here for her liking.
“Ahh, hello,” she cooed as one of her pets glanced up. “I need to speak to him.”
“No,” came the response in a tone dark enough to put out all the lights in the room.
She laughed. “I really need to speak to him. I won’t do anything. You can be there with me. I just need to… question him about something.”
“He isn’t hiding anything.”
“Mmmm. I’ll decide that for myself. Look, you’ll both be rewarded for this. And you don’t exactly have a choice.” She leaned in with a smirk. “You are my prisoner after all. Now, shall we go?” She didn’t expect any answer beyond the glower so she just moved to one of the other doors in the room. The door she rarely went to.
Her pet went over and unlocked the door. “If you do anything to him,” her pet warned but the threat meant nothing.
She went into the room with a big smile on her face. “Hello dear,” she said sweetly. “I need to talk to you about Zaid. And if you don’t help me this time… I might just renegade on my promise to your sister to get you walking again.”
Kay shrank back in his wheelchair while Jay struggled against the magical bindings that prevented her from attacking their jailer, not that she’d ever stop trying and the moment she could she would murder the faerie. “I believe the word you mean to use is ‘renege’,” Jay spat out.
Their jailer glared, her jaw tightening before she looked back at Kay. “Now,” she said, a fake smile returning to her face, “find that powerful little descendant of yours. Or else once your sister finishes making me what I need… I’ll kill you both.”