My eyes froze on the mirror. There was nothing different from what I could tell, but something prodded at the back of my mind and wouldn’t leave me alone. I’m not sure how long I was staring at my reflection, and I was more uncertain of why I looked away. It was barely morning and my day was already starting out weird.
I left my room and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face. Once done, I finally went downstairs. On the wall overlooking the staircase was a lifesize portrait of Willow Black, my mother, with her long scarlet hair framing her translucent porcelain face. She was frozen in time with a soft smile on her full lips—which I inherited—that twinkled in her bright, gray eyes—also inherited. Surrounding her on all ends were white roses, making her otherworldly beauty stand out far more. It was no wonder Father never moved on.
But he avoided talking about her like the plague.
I entered the kitchen to find Father at the island counter, nursing a cup of coffee and pouring over the morning issue. Instead of his blue uniform, he wore a baggy white t-shirt that stretched around the muscles in his arms and chest, and dark shorts. Tall and lean, Father had ivory white skin, dark hair, and black eyes, and strong, handsome features in his jawline and chin, making him look younger than his thirty-seven years.
The kitchen light reflected off his eyes when he looked up, and then gestured to the chair next to him.
“That’s the third time this week, Lorelei,” he stated.
He reached over and lifted my backpack with one finger from the chair. My face turned hot.
“Oops,” I smiled bashfully.
“Don’t leave it on the counter again,” he warned with a smile.
I sighed with frustration. A lecture before my birthday even starts. Great.
“Morning to you, too, Dad,” I greeted sarcastically, planting a kiss on his forehead and grabbing an apple from the fruit basket in front of him.
“Morning, kiddo,” he replied. “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks,” I gestured to the top headline on the front page. “What’s the story of the day?”
He sighed, folded the paper, and pushed it to a corner of the counter.
“The latest scandal in the mayor’s office,” he answered with a head shake. “Sex. Drugs. Greed. The usual.”
He leaned forward, brought his hands together, and pointed his index fingers to the counter behind me. “There’s a gift for you.”
I spun and saw a small, black jeweler’s box, no bigger than the palm of my hand, with a white ribbon wrapped tight around it. I picked it up and turned to him, watching his face light up.
“Open it,” he instructed.
I obeyed and fumbled to remove the ribbon and the lid. Inside, nestled on top of pretty silver paper, was a teardrop black opal pendant, surrounded by a band of small diamonds, hanging from a thin, white gold chain. At first glance it wasn’t familiar, until a moment passed and I recognized it as the jewel Mother was wearing in her portrait.
“She would’ve wanted you to have it,” Father stated.
I was speechless, holding the delicate chain in my fingers, watching the jewel twist and turn under the kitchen light. Then finally I locked the chain around my neck, the pendant resting just below my collarbone.
Father exhaled. “You look like your mother wearing it.”
I beamed thoughtfully. It was the best thing anyone ever said to me.
“Thank you. It’s beautiful,” I murmured.
“Enjoy it, kiddo,” he said as he stood up. He smiled. “I wanted to talk to you about something.”
Uh-oh. I knew there was a catch.
“You obviously know that your grandmother is coming over tonight,” he started, taking his empty cup to the sink. “But I think she’s bringing a friend over.”I
“A friend?” Strange. It wasn’t like Grandmother Sophia or Father to have any “friends,” let alone invite them to family gatherings.
“Well, not really a friend. He’s a student of hers.”
“Huh?” Okay, I was really confused now.
Grandmother Sophia was a World History Professor for San Diego State University for as long as I can remember, probably before Father was born. She lived off of her own motto, “personal and professional don’t go together,” so it was unheard of if she bonded with one of her students, let alone bring them around her family.
Not only that, but my family thrived on secrecy. It was crucial to keep what we were hidden from the normal ones, the Humans. If anyone were to find out, it would be the Salem Witch Trials all over again. Keeping our way of life was the most important thing to live by, and Grandmother Sophia was more adamant about this than Father. So, why was she being hypocritical and bringing a Human around us?
And on my birthday, for Christ’s sake?
“He’s a medical student who is trying to complete his thesis for his undergrad,” Father explained, breaking me out of my baffled thoughts. “He became interested in something your grandmother shared about new age medicines and treatments for many ailments, and wanted her help to research it. So she’s taken him under her wing and teaching him more through experience. He may be coming over tonight. I need you to mind yourself and be on your best behavior.”
“Wait… is that a smart idea?” I asked, stunned.
The look that crossed his face showed that he was thinking the same thing as me.
“Your grandmother knows what she’s doing,” Father assured, with little confidence. “But she needs you to behave yourself. And so do I.”
I folded my arms in front of my chest, looking him square in the eye. Something wasn’t right here.
“I can’t make any promises,” I told him.
There was something that fell over Father’s face. A dark look that spun in his eyes and fell to his lips, which thinned into a straight line. He wasn’t staring at anything in particular, but his mind was elsewhere, and I didn’t know where.
I knew that look very well.
He blinked, recollecting himself, and his posture became stiffer. He closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. Then opened them and looked at me.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said flatly. Then his eyes narrowed in my direction. “Just do me a favor. Watch yourself today. And be careful. We can’t afford any mishaps today.”
This was one of those many moments where I wished I could read Father’s mind. He was able to read mine without any difficult—and I was trying my damn hardest to keep him out—but him and Grandmother Sophia were able to blockade their minds to keep me from reading. I had to “learn” how to block them out, but it didn’t help when neither of them was willing to instruct me on how to do it.
“I wish you guys would tell me how to do it,” I said aloud.
“Do what?” Father asked, with a mischievous grin on his face.
I glared at him. “You know exactly what.”
He laughed, throwing his head back in amusement. “You’ll learn, kiddo. And don’t worry about what I saw. Everything will be fine.”
“But you won’t tell me what you saw?” I asked him.
“You know I can’t,” he frowned. “But if it was something that I knew needed intervening, I would let you know. Don’t worry about it. Things will happen as they’re supposed to.”
“Can you at least tell me how far did you see?” I begged.
Father liked playing these games with me. Nevermind being a strong Telepath, he had to hold the ability of Sight in front of me like a shiny, brand new toy I couldn’t have. Him and Grandmother Sophia both had these amazing abilities that I didn’t, and I envied them. Telepathy and Sight were just one of them—there was one in particular I was dying to have, and hated that I didn’t.
“By the way, tell that boy he’s going to keep hurting himself if he keeps doing that.”
“Huh?” I hated when Father slipped in tidbits of information that I had no clue what he was referring to.
He just shrugged and went to the coffee maker.
Mere seconds later, a loud crash sounded from the side yard, followed by an oomph! and a slew of curses shot underbreath. I pressed my lips together to stifle the laugh creeping up my throat, but it somehow made its way into my tear ducts. I couldn’t help it, I giggled loudly. We both knew who it was, and started laughing together. I buckled over at my knees, trying to hold myself up.
“I tell him to use the front door,” I managed through the giggles. “He doesn’t listen.”
Father breathed slowly, taking in a deep breath.
“Damn. He’s stubborn and hardheaded,” he stated. He threw a knowing grin out of the corner of his mouth. “Sounds like you’ve taught him well.”
“Thank you,” I beamed.
The kitchen door swung open and a teenage boy stumbled in, covered in sweat and dirt, and cursing under his breath.
“M-morning,” he groaned as limped with his hand clutched between his legs.
A hotness filled my cheeks. Father chuckled again.
“Good morning, Damien,” he exclaimed with a wide smile. “Got into another fight with the trash bins?”
Damien’s face flared a deeper red.
“Why didn’t you use the front door?” I imagined how I must’ve looked with my arms folded in front of my chest and scolding the poor boy with my eyes and words. But I lost count for how many times this has happened.
I watched Damien’s face turn a deep cherry red. It was cute.
“I don’t know,” he answered, gritting his teeth. “It’s more convenient to jump the fence?”
Father started snickering again, much to Damien’s dismay.
“Don’t complain if you keep hurting yourself, then,” Father noted.
“Or kill yourself,” I quickly added with a dark smile.
Damien’s black eyes widened in terror, glaring daggers at me.
“Damn it, Lorelei! Why do you have to go and say that?” he yelled. “Now you’ve just jinxed me! Thanks!”
“Don’t blame me for your own stupidity,” I reminded him, smiling from ear to ear.
Damien O’Sullivan was the quintessential boy next door—the owner of the mysterious bedroom window across from mine—and my best friend since we were three, when his family moved in. When we were kids, he tagged along in all of my crazy schemes, getting trouble with me—there was always plenty to go around—until we earned the nicknames “Bonnie and Clyde” in the schoolyard.
He adjusted himself awkwardly for a moment, pulling at the pockets of his worn out jeans. After a while, the redness faded from his face, and he wobbled to the middle of the kitchen, reaching for something in his back pocket.
“Here,” he said as he thrusted into my hands a white envelope. “Happy birthday.”
I froze, staring at the gift in my hand. Damien was never one to provide birthday gifts, at least not in the thirteen years that I’ve known him. The last time he gave anyone a gift was Valentine’s Day in the fourth grade, a makeshift card he gave to Priscilla Duran, which ended up in the trash three days later—I never told him that, it would break his heart.
“I hope you like it,” he added, making my heart gallop a little more.
I smiled up at him. “Thanks.”
A little blush returned to his cheeks. He cleared his throat and ran his fingers through his dark, wild hair. He was oblivious to how handsome he was, but every girl that knew him was fully aware of it.
Which made my blood boil at times.
I held the envelope up to the kitchen light, trying to see the contents inside. “Can I open it now?”
Damien shook his head, beaming. “Not yet. Wait until we’re at school.”
I frowned, but obliged, stuffing the envelope into my backpack. “Is your mom giving us a ride, by chance? If not, Dad can take us,” I offered.
Father exchanged knowing glances with me out of the corner of his eye. Luckily, Damien was oblivious to this, too. He turned to Father, though, mildly surprised.
“You have the day off?” he asked.
Father nodded. “Doesn’t happen very often, but I’m grateful to get what I can. So, is your mother giving you two a ride to school?”
Damien shook his head. “No, one of my friends is, actually.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” Father looked quickly at me for a flash of a second, then back.
“Which friend?” I inquired.
Damien looked at me hesitantly. Something was up. And I heard it in his mind before it came fluttering out of his mouth.
And my body acted accordingly.
“I think you know her,” he stated. “Theresa Calvin?”
My heart dropped to my stomach. I knew her, alright. Every school had one of her. Pretty, born into a well-to-do family of moderate wealth, dark hair, dark eyes, and well done makeup and designer label clothes. I shared Economics with her, and although she never spoke a word to me, her mind was a small puddle barely able to get the soles of my shoes wet. Superficial, with an inflated ego to match, she lead a clique of like minded students as her friends, and I knew at some point she would hook Damien in, just as she did for all other guys she set her sights on.
Never once did I like her.
“Lorelei, you okay?” Father’s voice broke through.
I blinked. “Yeah. I’m okay.”
But he knew I was lying. Damien could see it on my face, too, but he still smiled, pretending not to notice.
Father turned to Damien. “Will you be over for dinner tonight?”
“Um…” Damien looked momentarily at me, then back. “I won’t be able to make it tonight.”
Stones filled my stomach. It hurt.
“I’ve something planned that I can’t back out of,” he explained further. “But I’ll be by this Saturday. Save a piece of cake for me, if you can.”
I don’t know what compelled me to do what I did, but I regretted the next set of words that spilled out of my mouth.
“That’s okay. Grandmother’s bringing one of her students over. Should be fun.” I hated how I sounded, how ridiculous I made myself.
And the look on Damien’s face was bittersweet. Surprised, shocked, and a bit disappointed. But he recovered quickly with a smooth, eager smile.
“Cool. That does sound like fun.” And I was back to wallowing in jealous misery. This time, Father’s expression made it so much worse—he knew exactly what I was trying to do.
Damien’s pocket started buzzing loudly, causing him to jump. He pulled out his smartphone, toying with the screen for a moment, then put it back in.
“Tess is here,” he announced excitedly. “We need to split.”
Like that, all joy and cheerfulness was zapped from me, and I felt the anxiety take over. Could I ask Dad to give me a ride separately from Damien? No, it wouldn’t be right. We went to school together every morning since we were three. If I broke tradition, he would know something was up.
“You don’t have to do this, you know,” Father’s voice echoed in my head.
I glanced up, meeting his eyes. But I gave a slight movement of my head, indicating that I wasn’t going to cower my way out of this. So what if Damien was friends with Theresa Calvin? It didn’t matter. He was friends with lots of people. Theresa was just lucky enough to be considered one of them.
“Alright. Then let’s head out,” I struggled to smile. Then I turned to Father again. “I’ll see you after school.”
“I’ll lock the door behind you guys,” he replied.
But his thoughts entered my mind, delivering their message loud and clear.
“You need to watch yourself today. Keep an eye on those emotions of yours….”
Something about what Father said left a cold chill rolling down my spine. I froze momentarily in the hall, letting his words bounce off the walls of my mind. What the hell did that mean? Watch myself? Did he think something bad would happen?